10 Questions For Michael Eisner

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It has been a good summer for Disney, with big hits in the multiplexes (Finding Nemo, Pirates of the Caribbean and Freaky Friday) and decent earnings last quarter. Still, CEO Michael Eisner faces plenty of challenges — first among them, renegotiating Disney's distribution contract with Pixar, the computer-animation house behind Nemo and other hits. He talked with TIME's Jeffrey Ressner.

FINDING NEMO WAS A SUMMER SMASH; SINBAD, A MAJOR FLOP. IS TRADITIONAL CEL ANIMATION DEAD?

What's dead is bad storytelling. Technology doesn't make the movie; the story makes the movie. We've obviously done very well with computer animation and Pixar.


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WHAT ARE THE ODDS YOU'LL STRIKE A NEW DEAL WITH PIXAR?

I can't predict exactly what kind of financial or creative relationship the companies will have together. I've learned from the legal profession that whenever somebody asks you for odds, you say, "Fifty-fifty." So why don't we just leave it at that?

CAN DISNEY AFFORD TO LOSE PIXAR?

It's like asking if Disney can afford to lose any creative opportunity, and the answer is, It depends on the cost. We like being together with other gifted artists, but we are not contingent on any individual entity for growth and success.

YOU ONCE SAID YOU WOULDN'T TOLERATE ABC'S BEING THIRD IN PRIME TIME. YET IN THE MAY SWEEPS, ABC WAS NO. 4 IN THE KEY DEMOS. WHAT WILL YOU DO IF THINGS DON'T IMPROVE THIS FALL?

The difference between the No. 1 network and the No. 4 network is minuscule. It's like tenths of a point. Winning isn't everything. That said, our goal is to be the leading broadcast network. I'm not saying we're going to lead by Oct. 1. But I'm not going to worry about it if it takes six months longer than I would hope.

DO YOU THINK THE REALITY-TV TREND HAS PLAYED ITSELF OUT?

I think the explosion of this kind of television has run its course. The inexpensive, let's-watch-a-car-accident kind of reality show hopefully has seen better days.

THE FCC'S DECISION TO ALLOW MEDIA COMPANIES TO BUY MORE PROPERTIES HAS COME UNDER FIRE. IS MEDIA CONSOLIDATION GOOD FOR AMERICA?

The whole emotional issue of raising ownership levels from 35% to 45% has taken on the proportions of a mountain when it's really a hill. We support having the caps raised, but we're not violently supportive of it.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN IS A HIT. HAUNTED MANSION IS DUE OUT SOON. IS THERE A THEME-PARK RIDE YOU WOULDN'T TURN INTO A FILM?

I'd never say never to anything. But It's a Small World: The Movie sounds like it might not appeal to audiences of all ages.

IS IT TIME TO UPDATE THE THEME PARKS?

The parks are relevant now more than ever. The more complicated and difficult the world is, the more families want to have a day, a few days or even four hours when they can escape it. The questions now are, Do people feel safe traveling in airplanes? Can they get fuel for driving their cars and afford vacations?

WHAT'S YOUR RESPONSE TO CRITICS WHO SAY DISNEY HAS NO SUCCESSION PLAN?

I had a heart incident in 1994, so that was the beginning of those questions. I think I've proved that I'm at least healthy, if nothing else. And we have really good managers up and down the line, including a great president, Bob Iger. And I don't think I should say any more than that.

YOU WENT TO THE SUN VALLEY GATHERING OF MEDIA MOGULS. WHAT HAPPENED THERE?

I was there to ski. [Viacom CEO] Sumner Redstone won the slalom. I'd be happy if you printed that.