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Volume 21 No. 42
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Eisner adapts to evolving television landscape

The allure of broadcast television isn’t what it once was for producers of entertainment television.


In the 1990s, as the cable business grew, producers generally wanted to bypass broadcast’s reach in favor of cable’s creative flexibility. That instinct has become even more stark with the rise of over-the-top platforms like Netflix and Hulu, said Michael Eisner, who has placed shows on all video platforms.

“None of the creative people you talk to want to be on a network,” Eisner said. “I don’t think ABC’s model could afford to put on ‘House of Cards.’ It’s really expensive. It’s just the changing of the business. I don’t know if the word is chic or more creatively acceptable.”

Eisner has seen the TV and film universe change dramatically during his time in the business.
Photo: patrick e. mccarthy

This is especially applicable to producers of comedy programs. Eisner said he gets the same response every time he suggests they pursue a broadcast outlet.

“You can see they’re slightly disappointed that you’re not saying Netflix or Amazon or Apple,” he said. “You just see it. It’s definitely a changing business.”

The business also is changing in the way these platforms negotiate to carry shows. Eisner says these have become some of the toughest negotiations in Hollywood because all the platforms want to own the shows.

“We have passed on things at major studios because they wanted to own it even though they were willing to give us big fees,” Eisner said. “I mean, if I was 25 and somebody would offer me $10,000 an episode, I’d be thrilled. But I now have a whole staff to feed and pay off the cost of buying material.”

One of Eisner’s big current successes as owner of media and entertainment investman company The Tornante Co. is an animated dark comedy that is available on Netflix, called “BoJack Horseman.” He recalled how he greenlit the series after a meeting with its executive producer, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, who went through a list of ideas for a show. One of the ideas had a main character that was a talking horse with the body of a man — a storyline that reminded Eisner of the 1960s series “Mr. Ed.”

“This guy, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, is one in a decade,” he said. “That kind of writer and that kind of sensibility, they don’t come around very often.”

They wrote a script where the main character was an over-the-hill actor, a drunk and a misogynist.

“That was so weird to me,” Eisner said. “But I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go do that. It sounds like a good idea.’”

They made the pilot and took it to Netflix, and it launched in 2014.

Now entering its fifth season, “BoJack Horseman” has been a critical success with an 89 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.