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The BLOG FLUME -- It's a Scary, Incredible, Wacko Halloween Season

Eisner fends off another lawsuit, Steve Jobs hints at a Disney reconciliation, wackos go nuts over Universal’s ads, Dolly expands and other news.

Written by J. Dana
Published: October 18, 2004 at 3:25 PM

Skeletons in Eisner’s Closet make for a scary October
New York Times, Oct. 18, 2004

We always knew that Michael Ovitz’s $140 million severance package would come back to bite Eisner in the butt. But what took so long? On the none-too-soon eve of his departure, Eisner is having to face down another lawsuit, this one brought by disgruntled (and rightly so) shareholders arguing that the board of directors “breached its fiduciary responsibility when Mr. Eisner hired his friend, Michael S. Ovitz, as president in 1995 and then signed off on Mr. Ovitz's $140 million severance package 14 months later.” A close examination of records shows that Ovitz spent $2 million to renovate his office, $6,100 on a home x-ray machine, and $48,000 for a home screening room. Now remember how pissed you were when Epcot parking went up to $8. If we only knew then that we were paying for Ovitz’s Playboy magazine subscription. Plaintiffs are seeking nearly $200 million. Sadly, they probably won’t get it. They’ll win, but I’ll be surprised if any money ever changes hands.

It’s an Incredible Proposition
The Daily Review, Oct. 17, 2004

Okay, so we’ve all tired of the Pixar/Disney battle, right? Well it seems Pixar Chief Executive Steve Jobs may not yet be tired of the imbroglio. This entire story can be boiled down into the following line: “People close to Jobs say he would be open to resuming talks with Eisner’s successor.” Although many may think it’s beating a dead horse, I’m putting my money on a Disney/Pixar reunion. It’s gonna happen, folks. Theme parks and special anniversary releases keep DVDs selling. That’s Disney’s forte. Jobs knows it.

Wackos are all wacked out
The News Press (Florida), Oct. 18, 2004

Not to sound too insensitive (too late for that), but mental health officials in Florida are bent out of shape because Universal’s ads for Halloween Horror nights feature a restrained, writhing patient in a straight jacket. From all of us to all you Florida mental health sickos: GET A LIFE! And to the mental health facility executive in the story who said, “I personally was insulted, hurt and felt ashamed by what I saw and read," all I can say is that if you’re that easily dismayed, then lady, you’re in the wrong line of work. A friend of mine is a mental health provider and had to deal with a dude having sex with chickens. Believe me, these ads are the least of your worries.

Halloween is big business for theme parks across the country
Kane County Chronicle, Oct. 18, 2004
Tampa Tribune, Oct. 18, 2004

It used to be that deep discounts and short lines greeted guests at the major theme parks during the autumn months. That may still be somewhat true, but theme parks have capitalized on the month-long Halloween celebration in October to turn sliding profits into mega-bucks. This is something those of us on this site already know, but it’s interesting to see that the rest of the general population is now catching on.

And a Roundup of Other Small Tid-Bits:

Cypress Gardens held auditions, will open in November
Orlando Business Journal, Oct. 14, 2004

New White Rhino at Busch Gardens in Tampa
Miami Herald, Oct. 18, 2004

Dollywood Expanding
Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 18, 2004

Six Flags 2004 attendance lower than anticipated
Yahoo! News, Oct. 15, 2004

Readers' Opinions

From Derek Potter on October 18, 2004 at 7:51 PM
A home X-ray machine? What the hell is that? 2 million for an office renovation... Corporate bullcrap at it's finest. I just had another reminder of why I hate Disney. Disney reunion with Pixar??? sure...as soon as Eisner is gone.
From luis gonzalez on October 18, 2004 at 9:14 PM
this is a much better representation of the blog flume. i dig the quickies and the format was true to the old blog flumes. very good flume, im looking foward to future installments
From Jason Moore on October 19, 2004 at 6:35 AM
Excellent work J.Dana. It was easy to read, and you quickly got to the point of what each article was about.
From steve lee on October 19, 2004 at 9:08 AM
J Dana, you had me at "sex with chickens."

I'm sure Kevin would agree.

From Robert OGrosky on October 19, 2004 at 9:25 AM
I went to SFGAM this past friday-Oct 13 and the weather was cold and it did rain. The park had low attendance so i can already see another weather related excuse for the next quarter-inclement weather hold down halloween attendance!!!
From kyle sussman on October 19, 2004 at 1:56 PM
It was great, exept some times you should have put a little more in it. You only touched on the news stories.
From J. Dana on October 19, 2004 at 4:12 PM
Guns and Spinnig back at Disneyland

The Boston Channel, Oct. 19, 2004 (copy the link below into your browswer for story)

http://www.thebostonchannel.com/travelgetaways/3828896/detail.html

As an adendum, I thought the attached article is great. Although many of you already read about this, the article says that Disney is putting Guns back on the Jungle Cruise and Spin back into the teacups...in short, they're swinging back (slighly) from their Politically Correct stance of the past few years. Good for them...long live the good stuff!

From Derek Potter on October 19, 2004 at 5:21 PM
Six Flags overestimated their earnings by 60 million dollars. That's some pretty bad weather...seeing as though the other parks didn't seem to overestimate that badly.
From Jason Lester on October 19, 2004 at 7:25 PM
Sex with chickens?

Who here watches South Park? There's an episode called Chickenlover which sounds exactly like that! LOL!

From Robert OGrosky on October 19, 2004 at 8:12 PM
That was a great South Park Show!!! The chickenlover show was very funny!!!
From Rhys Evans on October 19, 2004 at 8:32 PM
J. Dana, the local news also said that Disneyland is removing some of the "Politically Correct" items in Pirates, too. It's back to the pirates chasing women, not pirates chasing women carrying food. Who was ever offended by that, anyway?
From J. Dana on October 19, 2004 at 9:03 PM
Yeah, sex with chickens...the only image (besides the obvious) that I can conjure is the bluebird in Shrek that blows up when the princess hits the high notes. Ugh.

But seriously, those ads for HHN are great...grisly, yes, but no less disturbing than last year's caretaker (which won awards). Okay, so the guy's wearing a straight jacket--does that mean we're impugning the mentally deranged?....well, maybe. That's what good horror movies (and Horror nights) are all about. The article just made me laugh, mainly. It's another case of the "professionally offended." There are people who try to be offended...it's their profession. That's what 90% of ACLU cases are all about.

Now, about that Six Flags accounting trick...I bet the three biggies (four if you count Busch Gardens) might use the hurricanes as excuses as well. Considering that the parks all closed down, this isn't a far-fetched notion. Disney and Universal, at least, cashed in on full hotels and restaurants.

The whole Michael Ovitz golden umbrella story is really making some hay all across the business world. According to the reports I've been reading, many companies are keeping a close eye on this case because it will have far-reaching effects.

So, the sexually predatory pirates are back? Speaking of the ACLU....

From Derek Potter on October 19, 2004 at 9:12 PM
All park chains use the weather as an excuse for lower revenue. That's the easiest thing to hang failure on. While there was some terrible weather down south, there are only a couple of Six Flags parks down there, and Florida, which was hit the worst, has Disney, Universal, and Busch properties. Bad weather does affect the business, but was it really responsible for a 60 million dollar gap in revenue? Of course they would never ever look in the mirror.
From TH Creative on October 20, 2004 at 2:50 AM
Seems kind of pathetic the way Steve Jobs is handling the Disney/Pixar agreement via the media. The fact that it is Mr. Jobs who is now struggling to keep hope alive regarding a Disney deal makes him look rather desparate.

First he announces (rather LOUDLY) that he's walking away from the negotiations. He times this very public announcement just before the Disney shareholder's meeting.

The response from Disney executives is basically a shrug of the shoulders. At the shareholders conference Mr. Eisner meets with the business media and shows absolutely zero concern about Pixar. He knows that Pixar can shop itself around but no other studio will be able to make a better offer. With regards to exactly what Mr. Jobs walked away from, Eisner tells reporters, "you'd be killing me today" if Pixar had agreed to what Disney put on the table.

In the meantime, whatever leverage Pixar ever had in the negotiations is now GONE. In the eight months since Mr. Jobs stomped away from the table, Pixar has not been able ink a deal with another studio -- prompting the question, where else are they gonna go? As Mr. Baxter has noted before, studio distribution deals generally don't vary that much. If this is the case why hasn't Mr. Jobs found another contract?

Second, the nation's movie theatres are now lousy with CG animation ('Shrek,' 'Shark Tales,' 'Polar Express,' 'Madagascar,' blah, blah, blah...) making Pixar's product seem a bit less cutting edge.

Further, it is becoming clear Disney couldn't care less about Pixar's intention. Current Disney Prez and potential Eisner successor Robert Iger recently told the press he didn't think Disney would ever sign another deal with Pixar. I think he actually began the statement by saying "Pixar who?" but I could be wrong.

Now after Mr. Iger's remarks, Mr. Jobs boldly leaks hints that he may be willing to talk? Please!

Meanwhile it's too late for Mr. Jobs to get a larger share of the profit on 'The Incredibles.' Had he signed the deal offered by Disney his company may have gotten a bigger piece of that pie.

And, once again, with the 2005 release of the Disney contracted 'Cars' and all the DVD anniversary product still pending, if Pixar does run away to another studio, Disney's bottomline will not feel an impact until 2006.

Face facts: When the dust settles, should Disney decide to do business with Mr. Jobs, the deal may well be a little better than the one offered by other studios, but a little worse than the deal Mr. Jobs walked away from earlier this year.

From James Adams on October 21, 2004 at 10:51 AM
Actually, I am a clinical therapist and while I was not personally (or professionally) offended (it really never even crossed my mind until you brought it up), I can see their point. The mental health field has worked hard at educating the public that mental health treatment is not scary or weird but instead humane, kind, and helpful. Believe it or not, there are many, many people who do not receive much needed services for their distress because mental health treatment seems unknown and scary. So instead they continue to have sex with chickens, beat their children, use drugs, etc... At times, it does feel like the entertainment industry works against mental health practitioners in this regard. I don't think any occupation likes having stereotyping involved whether its postal workers, lawyers, etc.

I think I was more concerned about some of the HHN commercials on TV. Especially when the bloody operating room came on while my 5 year old was watching cartoons at 4:00 in the afternoon. I think it would been a little more responsible to air those after 8:00 or 9:00 pm. Good commercial, bad timing.

James Adams

From Robert Niles on October 21, 2004 at 12:37 PM
I think the proper way to look at the imagery in the Universal commercial is not as a commentary or depiction of mental health treatment, but as representation of the horror of being trapped somewhere you're not supposed to be. You're not supposed to be in Dracula's castle. You're not supposed to be in a haunted graveyard. And you're not supposed to be in a mental ward, restrained for your safety and possibly shocked and/or drugged for therapy.

But such imaginary scenarios provide the entertainment in an event like this -- you can imagine being trapped in a horrific situation and enjoy the scare because you know you'll ultimately be safe.

Funeral homes don't freak out when someone depicts a person being buried alive. (Though I, for one, would get a good laugh out of something like "The National Funeral Directors Association deplores such images, as in more than a century of operation, no person has ever been buried alive under an NFDA member's watch....") Mental health pros should chill, too.

From TH Creative on October 25, 2004 at 10:31 AM
The Wall Street Journal published an article, which I have not had the chance to read (yet) that takes note of how Pixar has yet to find a new studio to work with.

Please excuse me while I roll over to Barnes & Noble.

From James Adams on October 25, 2004 at 7:37 PM
I would imagine the argument was not against the presence of using mental health facilities in horror in movies or in the parks. The issue pertains to the presentation of an advertisement that everyone is exposed to. With a movie or an attraction of some kind, there is an informed consent issue - the individual knows what they are getting themselves into. An advertisement is forced onto the viewer (of sorts) without their consent. Therefore, it is held to a higher code of ethics.

Ultimately, this is starting to look like the classic debate of the influence of media on the mind. Research tells us that media does, in fact, influence the decisions people make, our biases and worldviews, and our discriminations. The business and media world are so aware of this fact that they are willing to pay millions of dollars for a 30 second time slot during the Superbowl. Media has a subtle (dare I say unconscious) way of shaping our views. I am not sure that caretakers would ever "rise up" against popular media representations of their presentation. Afterall, it's not like people volunteer for burial like they do mental health treatment (of course, they can opt for burial, cremations, etc.). But, if people started keeping their dead relatives around out of fear that they would be buried alive, then perhaps caretakers would start rising up.

Nevertheless, I think when people of any profession stop standing up for how they see big business impacting society, then we've got problems. Universal was not thinking about social responsibility, they were thinking of $$.

Interestingly enough, a few years back there was a movie about an insane dentist who would cut people up while they were in the chair. Dentists took incredible offense to it.

James Adams


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