Eisner’s Media Reincarnation: CNBC Talk-Show Host

Times Staff Writer

Michael Eisner, the former Walt Disney Co. chief executive who was never at a loss for words -- including some that came back to bite him -- is headed for prime time as a talk-show host.

“Conversations With Michael Eisner” will run on CNBC every other month, the cable business news channel announced Tuesday, and will draw its guests from business, politics and entertainment. The show marks Eisner’s return to television nearly two decades after hosting “The Magical World of Disney.”

“It doesn’t have to be media people, it doesn’t have to be CEOs,” Eisner said. “It could be architects, it could be political personalities, whatever -- people I think are inventive, so to speak.”


Eisner is going to work for a channel owned by one of Disney’s biggest rivals, General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal. CNBC President Mark Hoffman said he pitched Eisner on the talk show after watching his stint as a guest host on PBS’ “Charlie Rose Show” in October.

With Eisner asking the questions, Hoffman said he “heard things from John Travolta” that he had not heard in previous interviews with the actor.

“Michael’s ability to communicate to the audience, and with his guests, was just terrific,” Hoffman said.

Eisner said that he had a hankering to do more after sitting in Rose’s chair interviewing Travolta and Barry Diller, Eisner’s former boss at Paramount Pictures Corp. who is now an Internet mogul.

CNBC has not announced a premiere date. The program will originate from the same New York studio where Eisner worked as an NBC page in the 1960s.

The channel has committed to air the hourlong program at least through this year, Hoffman said.


CNBC has made a specialty of turning prominent business figures into TV personalities, launching a talk show with ad executive Donny Deutsch and the manic financial program “Mad Money” with former hedge fund manager James Cramer.

Eisner’s future has been the subject of speculation in Hollywood since he retired as head of Disney on Sept. 30 after 21 years. He declined to say what he had planned beyond the CNBC show.

Eisner also was tight-lipped about potential guests but said nobody was off-limits, including former colleagues with whom he had a falling-out such as Michael Ovitz and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

At Disney, Eisner was known for often-cutting remarks that sometimes came back to haunt him, such as his descriptions of Katzenberg as a “little midget” and Ovitz as a “psychopath.”

But Eisner said he would be a gracious host.

“There is not going to be screaming or jumping up and down on the show,” he said. “I may ask questions, in a polite way, that hit upon things that are at least multi-sided. But it’s not going to be a scream fest or anything like that.”