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Checks & Balances: The palace intrigue continues at the Mouse House

Checks & Balances: The palace intrigue continues at the Mouse House

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So when will we know that Bob Iger has finally officially taken over as head of the Mouse House? When virtually all mention of the Walt Disney Company disappears from the front page of your local newspaper.

That's the word coming out of Burbank. That Iger has decided that -- over the past few years -- far too much ink has been devoted to Disney's corporate shortcomings (EX: The Katzenberg lawsuit, the Ovitz lawsuit, the Winnie the Pooh lawsuit et al). And -- as a direct result of all this bad press -- Disney's public image has significantly suffered.

"So what's Bob going to do to undo all that damage?," you ask. He's going to try & take the emphasis off of the people who run Disney (I.E. Michael Eisner) and put it back on the products that the company actually produces. The films, the TV shows, the theme park attractions, etc.

More importantly, Iger intends to set an example as to how a good Disney corporate executive should behave by shunning the spotlight himself. As one unnamed Disney insider told me last week:

"You won't see Bob doing the intros for 'The Wonderful World of Disney," that's for sure. He doesn't want to be seen as this celebrity CEO. Iger figures that his job is to run the Walt Disney Company. Not hog the spotlight. So that's what he's going to do. Run the company."

Of course, if Bob intends on being more of an inside guy, then obviously Disney's new No. 2 (I.E. The person who's going to fill Iger's old position as president of the Walt Disney Company) will have to be more of a front man. Someone who's actually comfortable with dealing with the public. Who won't mind having his picture taken as he cuts the ribbon at the opening of some new theme park attraction and/or when giant checks have to be handed over to the United Way.

This is why so many Mouse House insiders have been campaigning for *** Cook to be named as the Disney Company's new president. I mean, here's a guy who's been with the Walt Disney Company for over 34 years now. Who literally rose up through the ranks (***'s first job at Disney was working as a hourly cast member at Disneyland, where he helped load guests on the steam train & the monorail) to eventually become chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

More importantly, people in Hollywood just seem love Cook. Even when notoriously difficult characters like Steve Jobs of Pixar and Harvey & Bob Weinstein were fed up with dealing with Michael Eisner, they still went out of their way to say nice things about *** Cook. Calling him one of the nicest guys in show business.

So given that Disney has a rather rotten reputation in the business world right now, naming *** Cook -- a man who has decades of experience at the company, who is also highly respected in the Hollywood community -- as the corporation's new president would go an awfully long way toward repairing the damage that's been done to the company's image.

Of course, then there's the question of what to do with Disney's chairmanship. George Mitchell has made no bones about his desire to vacate this position as quickly as possible. Still feeling rather battered from the whole "Save Disney" affair, the former senator from Maine has already told Disney board members that he won't seek re-election in 2006.

So that leaves Disney's board 'til February of next year to come up with a new president as well as a new chairman of the board. Though the way I hear it, two in-house candidates have already emerged as possible replacements for Mr. Mitchell: Thomas O. Staggs, Disney's current chief financial officer or Robert W. Matschullat, the former vice chairman of Seagrams who joined Disney's board of directors back in 2002.

Mind you, Disney board member Gary Wilson used to be on the short list for the chairmanship. But given all the bad press that Wilson has received lately (I.E. In addition to his duties on Disney's board of directors, Gary also serves as Chairman of the Board of Northwest Airlines Corporation. Over the past week, Wilson has come under increased scrutiny for allegedly selling off $1.8 million in Northwest stock in the weeks just prior to that carrier filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection), he's reportedly no longer considered a viable candidate for this position.

So if you think that this story is over come Friday, once Michael Eisner officially steps down as Disney's CEO and Bob takes over ... think again, folks. The palace intrigue has really only just begun. Though -- given how Bob Iger is now determined to make sure all this behind-the-scenes stuff actually stays behind-the-scenes -- one wonders how much of this inside info is going to leak out to the press from here on in.

But the crew here at JHM will definitely be keeping an eye on things. And we'll share the stories as we hear them. But -- for now -- the big news is ... Disney's going to try & stay out of the news from now on.

So do you think that Iger will actually be able to pull that off?


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