The Year That Was

October-November 2004

Oct 20

THE YEAR IN DISNEY

MOUSE KE-TEARS Once upon a time (1996, to be precise) in a magic kingdom, a powerful prince named Michael Ovitz was dismissed from his post as president of a big company. Before he left, King Michael Eisner — the big company's chairman and CEO — and his minions gave the prince a trove of riches worth $140 million, to the ire of village stockholders. And so, on this cold, dark day in October, the angry villagers finally stage their revolt in Delaware Chancery Court, where a judge starts hearing their $200 million suit claiming the King and Co. breached their fiduciary responsibility. (The trial resumes Jan. 11.)

Aye, Disney did not have a fairy-tale 2004. Its unfortunate fate begins on Jan. 29, when Pixar CEO Steve Jobs ends 10 months of talks and threatens to take his CGI geniuses (who created Disney cash cows like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles) elsewhere to whistle while they work. Days later, on Feb. 3, angry heir Roy E. Disney files a document with the SEC, blaming Eisner for 12 years of ''failed ventures'' and ''schemes that recycle rather than innovate.'' On March 3, Eisner loses his chairman title and is replaced by presiding director George Mitchell; and on Sept. 10, Eisner announces his intent to abdicate his throne when his contract expires in '06 — prompting a don't-let-the-drawbridge-hit-you-on-the- way-out letter from Roy. In the midst of the reshuffling (which includes the departure of execs Susan Lyne and Lloyd Braun from its TV network, ABC), the Mouse House finds time in May to block cash-strapped indie division Miramax from releasing a controversial little documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11. Miramax execs Bob and Harvey Weinstein buy the film rights, strike distribution pacts with Lions Gate and IFC, and then bask in the movie's $200 million-plus worldwide success. Which for stepmother Disney is basically the equivalent of watching Cinderella go to the ball, get married, and pop out a bunch of gorgeous children — all in seven weeks.

But every fairy tale needs a happy ending, and this one has two. Amid the turmoil, ABC's Stephen MacPherson rescues some fair maidens in the guise of Desperate Housewives, who give the net some of its best ratings in a decade. And movie division honcho Dick Cook? He overcomes a slow year (The Alamo, King Arthur) by discovering a National Treasure that makes him feel Incredible (that's a Disney movie, too) at the box office.

Oct 27

BEANTOWN AND COUNTRY The Boston Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series, leaving the Curse of the Bambino to find a new victim. Which it easily does: the career of Sox fan Ben Affleck.

Nov 2

GEORGE ON THEIR MINDS Contrary to the explicit wishes of Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and Green Day, President George W. Bush is reelected. What's next in this disobedient nation? When rockers yell, ''Can you hear me, Philly?'' will said Philadelphia fans not yell, ''Woo-hoo''?

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