Michael Eisner is not a man with many close friends. But John Angelo is one of the few.
Angelo is co-founder of hedge fund Angelo, Gordon & Co., one of the senior creditors in the complex Tribune Co. bankruptcy. And he’s the person who approached Eisner about joining the board of a reconfigured Tribune.
Formidable legal obstacles must be overcome before new management can be installed at the troubled media company. But Eisner, formerly Disney chairman and CEO, is in talks to become chairman of the board, possibly with former colleague Jeff Shell, now president of the Comcast Programming Group, as his CEO.
A source close to Eisner said he believes Tribune is “a massively undervalued asset” that “if managed properly could be turned around.”
Tribune owns 23 television stations, including KTLA-TV Los Angeles, and a group of newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. The L.A. Times first reported the talks.
Though Eisner has told associates he’s glad that he no longer has to contend with running a public company, several say they believe he is bored with his current ventures, which include creating content for the Internet.
“I can certainly see how, despite his protests to the contrary, he felt on the sidelines,” one associate said. “My own pop psychology is that he would love something where the story line is, ‘He’s done it again.’ “
Television veteran Fred Silverman, who was Eisner’s boss long ago at ABC and consulted on programming at the network when Eisner was still at Disney, said he believes Eisner could, in fact, do it again.
“He certainly knows how to grow a company,” he said. “The thing with Michael is he’ll come along and the next thing you know, they’ll own (a company like) Lionsgate.”
It is not clear that Eisner has any particular affinity for news, though he played reporter to write his upcoming book, Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed.
“I ended up learning a lot,” Eisner wrote in an e-mail sent to friends Wednesday. “I interviewed Bill and Melinda Gates … I visited with the producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard … I went to Paris to speak with Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti. I interviewed Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus about their partnership at Home Depot and Ian Schrager about his collaboration at Studio 54 with the late Steve Rubell.”
A source who has seen the book says the first chapter discusses Eisner’s relationship at Disney with his late No. 2, Frank Wells, who died in a helicopter crash in 1994. The last chapter in the book is about Angelo and his partnership with Michael Gordon.