Former Disney head Eisner to host CNBC show

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Michael Eisner, loved and loathed as former chief executive of Walt Disney Co., will begin the next chapter of his career in the entertainment industry, this time as a talk show host for cable business news channel CNBC.

Eisner, credited with steering Disney through a period of extraordinary growth and criticized later for his management style, will host a bimonthly, one-hour interview show called “Conversations With Michael Eisner.” The program’s premiere date has yet to be announced.

The network, owned by General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal, said the program will focus on the importance of creativity and innovation in business, politics, entertainment and other subjects.

Eisner told Reuters that he began to warm to the idea of hosting a talk show after serving as a guest host on PBS’s “The Charlie Rose Show” last October.

“I’ve always felt that when an idea is right, you go for it,” Eisner said. “I ask a lot of incessant questions of my children and my family … it seemed like the right idea at the right time.”

Eisner, 63, declined to name his first guests, joking that anyone not mentioned could be insulted, but indicated they would hew to his own management style at Disney.

“In this environment when … sales and governance and operations are highlighted, the one thing that I hope doesn’t fall through the cracks is that you don’t have success unless you have discipline combined with creativity,” Eisner said.

During Eisner’s 21-year watch at the helm, Disney saw the rejuvenation of its film studio with blockbusters such as “Beauty And The Beast,” “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid.” It also bought Capital Cities/ABC in 1995.

But the company hit a number of stumbling blocks in the last four years, including a slump at its theme parks and flagging ratings at the ABC network until the success of recent TV hits such as “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost.”

The missteps caused Roy Disney, nephew of the company founder, Walt Disney, to launch a campaign to oust Eisner. The board made many of the changes Roy Disney advocated, although Eisner left on his own terms.

In October, Eisner was tapped as a guest host for PBS’s “Charlie Rose” when he interviewed InterActiveCorp. CEO Barry Diller and actor John Travolta.

Eisner joins a number of executives who have parlayed careers into television talk show hosts, including advertising executive Donny Deutsch and former hedge fund owner Jim Cramer. Real estate magnate Donald Trump scored a major hit with NBC’s “The Apprentice,” albeit in a different format from TV talk shows.

In the past, CNBC has tried a talk show hosted by Tina Brown, one-time editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker magazines, but it was canceled quickly due to low ratings. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, was a periodic co-host of the CNBC show “Squawk Box” several years back.

CNBC President Mark Hoffman said the network believes Eisner, who is well-known to its affluent, business-oriented audience, “is tailor-made for this format.”

“When you combine Michael’s background with his innate, insatiable curiosity and his ability to listen, I think we will have a big hit on our hands,” Hoffman said.

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