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Which explains why despite every good attorney’s counsel to keep answers short and to the point during testimony, Ovitz kept dictating a virtual book. At times, even his own lawyer showed good-natured frustration with Ovitz’s bizarrely rambling answers. Asked about the hiring of TV executive Jamie Tarses, Ovitz said, “I don’t know where to start.” (Little wonder since her move from NBC to ABC didn’t just spark a sexual-harassment scandal but also ratcheted up inter-network nastiness.) “Start at the beginning,” Ovitz’s lawyer suggested. Bad advice. Again and again, Ovitz was reminded to get back to the topic of Tarses. Later, Ovitz himself pointed out that “My own lawyer is making fun of me.”
Ovitz was trying to craft, with absolute care and confidence, an image of himself as the world’s living expert on, well, everything. Theme parks, video games, book publishing, the music industry: yeah, sort of. But there was also his exhaustively detailed explanation of ways to avoid jet lag, or the difference between doing business in Japan vs. China, or his digression about his large collection of Ming Chinese furniture. Or his recitation of the different video games his kids like to play.
He glossed over every black mark on his tenure, from his egregious mistake bringing in Marty Scorsese (whose Kundun deep-sixed Disney plans for China for a while) to his bizarre courting of Michael Jackson (that’s right, after the first child-molestation scandal when the singer’s career was toast). Even his notion to gather all Disney’s global operations under one roof — to stimulate a creative give-and-take like CAA’s Wednesday motion picture meeting — was crap. (That plan was abruptly scuttled when it was determined that it would require a building stretching several miles long just to house all the employees.)
And if Eve had three faces, then Ovitz on the stand had 23. One minute he was charming, the next angry. Cute, then crafty. Pained and painful. The only constant was his insistence that the failures were Eisner’s fault and not his. Eisner (who has yet to take the stand), that unrepentant micromanager who wouldn’t give up any significant areas of responsibility to Ovitz to manage on his own, who never sent the message that Ovitz was the new boss to Disney division chiefs, who fiercely guarded their autonomy, who cut off Ovitz at the knees from the very beginning and kept chopping day by day, week by week, month by month, until Ovitz was so frozen out of Disney’s core business of movies, television, network and theme parks that he was left with only the company’s international arena by default.
Of course, what Ovitz didn’t address was Eisner’s need for a helpmate, someone who was going to roll up his sleeves and get involved in the nuts and bolts of running the company. Not someone like Ovitz who, ever the dealmaker, was simply looking for The Big Score. Beneath the boasting, Ovitz unwittingly made himself out to be a child with attention deficit disorder, constantly pointing to the latest toy he wanted to play with, desperately needing Ritalin: I want EMI, the record company. I want Putnam, the publishing company. I want Yahoo, the Internet company. I want the Seattle Seahawks. If only the attorneys knew that when Disney exec Steve Bollenbach asked Ovitz why he wanted to buy an L.A. sports team, he replied that a big company like Disney has “a responsibility to the city.” Fired back Bollenbach: “No, you don’t. You have a responsibility to the shareholders.”
Oh yes, Disney shareholders, the people who paid Ovitz’s salary and severance, the folks who brought this lawsuit. Tellingly, not once did Ovitz refer to them in court.
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