November 21, 2014
Longtime Executive Visits SCA
Careers in the entertainment industry rarely last several decades. They rarely cross over from television, film and internet properties. They rarely span the public and private sector. Legendary executive Michael Eisner has beaten the odds on all counts. Eisner is currently the president of the Tornante Company which oversees investments such as candy companies and the television show Bojack Horseman. He is best known as the former President of Paramount Pictures and the CEO of ABC/Disney during its legendary run and expansion in the 80s and 90s. On November 11th he sat down for an interview and Q&A with Larry Auerbach, head of the Office of Student Industry Relations at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Eisner spoke about his career and gave advice to students, telling them there’s a place in our internet culture for well-produced, story-based content. “The world doesn’t have ADD. Americans will watch something for more than ninety seconds if it’s any good,” said Eisner.
Eisner’s career started with two brief stints at NBC and CBS. Then executive Barry Diller hired Eisner at ABC as Assistant to the National Programming Director. Eisner moved up the ranks there, eventually becoming Senior Vice President in charge of programming and development. In 1976, Diller, who had, by then, moved on to become Chairman of Paramount Pictures, recruited Eisner from ABC and made him president and CEO of the movie studio. During Eisner’s tenure at Paramount, the studio turned out such hit films as Saturday Night Fever, Grease, the Star Trek film franchise, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Beverly Hills Cop, and hit TV shows such as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Cheers and Family Ties.
“I made my career by going to the place that no one goes to,” he told SCA students. “At ABC, nobody wanted to run Children’s Programming, so I raised my hand. I didn’t have any competition. In a way, I think that’s still what I’m doing with my career.”
Eisner also told the crowd that, during his career, he was a pioneer of the common practice of of transitioning between television and film. “Barry [Diller] and I were the only two guys to come out of TV and work in movies. Everyone in the movie business wore scarves. TV was unclassy. We were TV guys. I had to learn how to not call movies ‘shows.’ But me and Barry were the first people to make movies for television. Movies of the week. We did sixty movies a year. It was exactly the same.”