Who Is Michael Eisner?

Michael Eisner is known as a prominent entertainment executive. With notable positions at ABC, Paramount, and The Walt Disney Company, Eisner's career in television and film spanned four decades, from 1966 to 2005.

Eisner owns The Tornante Company, a private investment firm that acquires and operates companies in media and entertainment. He is the author of Working Together, Work in Progress, and Camp.

Key Takeaways

  • Michael Eisner led ABC television to first in ratings as vice-president of programming.
  • He was president of Paramount Pictures and helped launch films such as Saturday Night Fever and Grease.
  • Eisner presided over Disney's production of the films Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.
  • Michael Eisner resigned from The Walt Disney Company in 2005.

Early Life and Education

Michael Eisner was born on March 7, 1942, in Mount Kisco, NY. He grew up in an affluent family in Manhattan and attended The Lawrenceville School, a private boarding school in New Jersey. In 1964, Eisner graduated from Denison University in Ohio with a bachelor’s degree in English. His early work in the entertainment industry included positions in advertising at both NBC and CBS.

Television and Movies

In 1966, Michael Eisner found a mentor in entertainment executive Barry Diller, who hired Eisner as assistant to the national programming director at ABC. Eisner would eventually become vice president for daytime programming in 1971 and senior vice president for prime time production and development in 1976. That same year, Eisner followed Diller to Paramount Pictures to become president and chief operating officer of the movie studio division. Eisner would help launch box office successes such as The Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Flashdance and television classics like Happy Days and Cheers. Under Michael Eisner, Paramount ranked number one in box office and profitability in both theatrical movies and network television production.


Jeffrey Katzenberg

In 1984, Michael Eisner assumed the position of chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company and quickly hired Jeffrey Katzenberg to head the motion picture division. From 1984 until Katzenberg's resignation in 1994, the pair transformed Disney from a struggling media giant into a powerhouse that would dominate the film industry with blockbusters like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast, which became the first animated film nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award in 1991. During this time, Disney would also partner with Pixar Animation Studios and acquire Miramax Pictures, ABC, and ESPN.

Save Disney

In 1994, following the death of then Disney president, Frank Wells, Jeffrey Katzenberg lobbied for Wells' position. When Eisner declined to promote him, Katzenberg resigned and Michael Ovitz was selected. Ovitz would also later resign due to growing turmoil within the company. After years of success, Eisner became embroiled in monetary lawsuits involving both Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Ovitz.

In 2004, Roy Disney, nephew of the company’s founder, resigned his board seat and launched the "Save Disney" campaign in protest of what he perceived as Eisner’s mismanagement. The campaign succeeded when 43 percent of the voting shareholders expressed their lack of confidence in Eisner, and a new chairman of the board was appointed in March 2004. Eisner remained CEO of The Walt Disney Company until his resignation on Sept. 30, 2005.

Notable Accomplishments

Michael Eisner was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2012. His leadership at both ABC and Paramount lead to legendary television shows such as Family Ties and Entertainment Tonight. Eisner's later move to The Walt Disney Company transformed Disney from a film and theme park company with $1.8 billion in enterprise value into a global media empire valued at $80 billion. Leading Disney into fields such as television, publishing, home video, and cruise ship travel, Michael Eisner became a symbol of the Disney brand.

Published Works

Michael Eisner has authored three books: Work in Progress (1998; with Tony Schwartz), Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed (2010; with Aaron Cohen), and Camp.

When Did Michael Eisner Serve As CEO of The Walt Disney Company?

Michael Eisner replaced Ron Miller in 1984 and served as CEO of The Walt Disney Company until 2005. Bob Igor became CEO after Eisner's resignation.

What Is The Tornante Company?

Michael Eisner formed The Tornante Company in 2005 to invest in media and entertainment enterprises. In 2007, Eisner and Tornante acquired the Topps trading card company with Madison Dearborn for $385 million and later sold Topps in 2022 for $500 million to Fanatics.

Has Michael Eisner Written an Autobiography?

Michael Eisner's book, Camp, details his time in summer camp and the indispensable lessons he learned there that continue to influence him. 

The Bottom Line

Michael Eisner is viewed as one of the most influential leaders in the entertainment industry who created a blueprint for television and movie success. His ability to formulate long-term goals and create successful teams helped catapult each of the companies he lead to unprecedented accomplishments.

Article Sources
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  1. Brittanica. "Michael Eisner."

  2. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Letter of Resignation, Dated 11/03/30, From Roy E. Disney to Michael D. Eisner Exhibit 99.1."

  3. History. "Michael Eisner resigns as Disney CEO."

  4. Michael D. Eisner. "Bio."

  5. Michael Eisner. "Tornante."

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