GEORGETOWN, Del. – Michael Eisner (search), the chief executive of the Walt Disney Co. (DIS), Thursday said it was "stupid" to appear on a national television show in 1996 to show his support for Michael Ovitz (search) and conceded he was less than candid with the public during the interview.
Eisner fielded questions about the September 1996 interview with Larry King on CNN during his fourth day of testimony at a shareholder lawsuit against Disney's board. Shareholders have sued the board over its decision to allow Ovitz to walk away from his job as president with a $140 million pay package after just 14 rocky months of work.
Between tense exchanges with Steven Schulman, a Milberg Weiss attorney representing shareholders who want the pay package returned, Eisner watched a brief clip of the interview in which he said he would hire Ovitz again if given the chance.
"The statement that I gave on the Larry King show was the better of the two options for our shareholders," Eisner told the Delaware Court of Chancery. "It's a fine line ... as to how much to reveal to the public before you have actually concluded your decision making process."
That decision making process, Eisner has testified, revolved around what to do about Ovitz, who had little success as Disney's president after he was hired in 1995 from Creative Artists Agency, the talent agency he founded.
Eisner said the interview with Larry King occurred while he, Ovitz and the board of directors were at Florida's Walt Disney World (search) for meetings and to celebrate the park's 25th anniversary.
At Walt Disney World, Eisner said, he discussed the rapidly deteriorating Ovitz situation with other board members, bringing up the possibility Ovitz could leave Disney for a job at Sony.
Yet that same day he also appeared on King's television show, where he was asked whether he would hire Ovitz again if he had the chance.
"Yes. The answer is yes," Eisner said on the broadcast, adding that rumors of tensions between himself and Ovitz were "baloney."
By appearing on the show, Eisner said Thursday, he hoped to put to rest -- at least for a time -- reports of troubles between himself and Ovitz.
"I can't say that it was completely candid with the public," he testified. "And my goal was not to rehire him at that time, my goal was to eliminate the problem."
Schulman, the shareholders' lawyer, pressed Eisner on why he appeared on the broadcast at all.
"That's the best question you've asked all day," Eisner said. "Look, I think it was an extremely dumb thing to do and there was no way to get out of it without offending Larry King. It was unfortunate and stupid and I wish we hadn't done it, but we did.