It was the biggest executive belly flop in showbiz history: Michael Ovitz, 50 – routinely referred to as ”the most powerful man in Hollywood” during his 20-year reign as head of the Creative Artists Agency – announced Dec. 12 that he was resigning as president of the Walt Disney Co. effective Jan. 31. According to the onetime superagent, his controversial tenure had become ”an unnecessary distraction for a great company.” So what really happened?
AUGUST 1995 Disney chairman Michael Eisner, minus a second-in-command since the respected Frank Wells died in a helicopter crash in April 1994, hires old pal Ovitz, promising him a genuine ”partnership.”
OCT0BER 1995-FEBRUARY 1996 Denied the title of chief operating officer by the notoriously controlling Eisner, Ovitz casts about for a role. Although he persuades former CAA clients Martin Scorsese and Sean Connery to ink Disney contracts, he has little direct influence in the movie division, since its boss, Joe Roth, guards his own turf.
FEBRUARY 1996 Ovitz fails to strike a partnership deal with film and TV producer Brad Grey (The Cable Guy, The Larry Sanders Show) – even though Grey already has a production agreement with Disney-owned ABC. Instead, Grey goes with rival MCA/Universal.
APRIL 1996 Ovitz’s successful negotiations to bring NBC programming exec Jamie Tarses to ABC provoke an angry outburst from NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer, who dubs Ovitz ”the Antichrist” and blames him for rumors – denied by all concerned – that Ohlmeyer had sexually harassed Tarses.
JUNE 1996 Ovitz fails to persuade Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, the producers of sitcoms that include Roseanne and Third Rock From the Sun, to come aboard as ABC execs.
SEPTEMBER 1996 Confronted by snowballing press reports of tensions between him and Eisner, Ovitz joins his boss on Larry King Live. Eisner dismisses the stories as ”baloney.”
NOVEMBER 1996 Though Ovitz has been shuttling to China to open the doors for Disney product, he’s embarrassed when the Communist government protests Kundun, Scorsese’s upcoming movie about the Dalai Lama.
DECEMBER 1996 As media reports of Ovitz taking meetings with Sony and Viacom execs spark rumors that he’s job-hunting, he and Eisner get together to hammer out a separation agreement.
But save your tears for the soon-to-be-former mouse-factory prez: He’s expected to depart with at least $90 million – not bad for 16 months at a job that just didn’t work out.