At the time, both Eisner and Ovitz were continuing to lie to the news media that they were still The Dream Team. Ovitz began desperately trying to negotiate a five-year, $100 million deal to run Sony's U.S. entertainment assets (which would also reimburse Disney's financial obligations to him), but couldn't close the transaction. Disney had to decide whether to keep Ovitz or dump him. The rest, as they say, is infamy.
Since his firing, in books and magazine articles and TV interviews, the two Michaels now agree that Ovitz was a failure at his job. So, as a journalist who covered Ovitz's tenure at Disney from his arrival to departure, I've always been puzzled why Disney didn't just pay Ovitz chump change to get rid of him.
My notes show that, at the same time Disney made the formal announcement that Ovitz was out as president after the close of the stock market on December 13, 1996, at about 1:30 p.m. PST, a top company executive was telling me that the severance amount for Ovitz still hadn't been finalized, but that it looked to be only a $10 million payment. "You have to consider the whole status in terms of, did he resign or was he fired?" the insider said.
Only one person knows why Ovitz's payment ballooned to $140 million. So this current litigation questions Eisner's loyalty: Whom did he put first, the company or himself? As for Disney's board of directors: Whom did they put first, the shareholders or Eisner?