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STROLLING OUT OF THE MORNING SESSION of an elite confab of media movers and shakers in Sun Valley, Idaho, last month, ABC president Robert Iger spotted his boss, Capital Cities/ABC CEO Thomas Murphy, huddled intently in a parking lot with Walt Disney honcho Michael Eisner and mega-investor Warren Buffett, the principal Cap Cities shareholder. "Don't sell the network," Iger shouted jokingly to Murphy across the asphalt. Whoops! Too late, Bob. A casual query by Eisner to Buffett minutes before—"You think ABC is still for sale?"—had already set in motion Disney's $19 billion purchase of ABC.
What will the merger mean to TV viewers? Not much. ABC's Saturday morning cartoon slate will probably carry the Disney stamp, but prime-time series and news should be unaffected. Despite harping on Disney's "family" milieu, Eisner, who cut his teeth in network television (spending a decade at ABC), isn't likely to insist on bland programming. In fact, the shows now produced by Disney's television arm—including Live with Regis & Kathie Lee, Ellen and Unhappily Ever After—are already much saltier than The Little Mermaid.
Finally, a note to Charlie Gibson of Good Morning America: The morning the merger was announced on your show, Thomas Murphy asked you on-air, "Wouldn't you be proud to be associated with Disney?" You hemmed and hawed. The correct employee etiquette in that situation is to sing out an emphatic "Yes, sir!" Followed, for extra credit, with a few bars from "Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It's Off to Work We Go."
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