Fates and Fortunes

Eisner says he won't be running Tribune

10/05/2010 07:41:01 PM

Michael Eisner himself denied that he’ll be coming in to run Tribune Co., during an interview this morning (Tuesday, Oct. 5) on WGN 720 AM Chicago.

In an interview with host Greg Jarrett, Eisner acknowledged that he had bought Tribune debt as an investment and knew some of the principals involved, but said a journalist “put 2 and 2 together and got 11″ in speculating that Eisner would move into the top job at Tribune.

“The rumor escalated to the point where I lost control of it,” he said, as Chicago Breaking Business reported.

Noting his familiarity with Tribune media holdings and past management, he said he felt comfortable serving in an advisory role.

“Does that mean I’m going to run it? No, I’m not going to run it,” he said.

Rumors that Eisner and Comcast Programming President Jeff Shell would be coming in to head Tribune Co., which is struggling through its bankruptcy proceedings with groups of unhappy creditors, have been flying since late August, after the Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times filed a report.

Since then, the story has gone back and forth, with Eisner more publicly denying it in recent days.

I’ve been personally skeptical about Eisner, the former head of Disney, taking over Tribune. To me, Eisner’s skills and talents covered a different set of media interests, particularly film and new media, while Tribune’s focus is on TV stations and newspapers. But two people that I deeply respect and who have both worked for Eisner refuted my view of this, both saying that Eisner is the most amazing executive they’ve ever worked for and that they’d both work for him again at any time. Both also thought that Tribune would be very lucky to get an executive like Eisner to transition it into the future.

However, if Eisner himself is to be believed, it looks like Tribune’s not going to get that chance.

Meanwhile, what happens with Comcast’s Jeff Shell is another interesting question. If/when its merger with NBC Universal gets regulatory approval, Comcast will have no less than five potential executives to run its battery of cable networks: Shell, Ted Harbert, president and CEO of E! Networks; Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment; Bonnie Hammer, president of NBC Universal Cable; and Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal’s lifestyle and women networks (Bravo, Oxygen, iVillage).

While the respected Gaspin has plenty of experience atop NBC Universal’s cable nets, the Hollywood rumor mill has Robert Greenblatt, the former president of Showtime, being named president of NBC. Should that happen, most expect him to refuse to answer to Gaspin. And if Gaspin loses authority over the broadcast network, he is expected to step down.

That still leaves four fighting to prevail over Comcast’s cable nets. Many say the smart money is on Hammer, who has overseen NBCU’s cash cow USA and rebuilt SciFi. If Hammer stays, Zalaznick goes, most predict. That still leaves Shell and Harbert, however.

Sometimes having an embarrassment of riches – or talent – just equals a headache.

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