Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Wednesday Dweebing 4 - Da Mouse da MOUSE DA MOUSE

H.K. Disneyland: 10,000 hotel reservations in 3 weeks
HONG KONG -- The Hong Kong Disneyland theme park set to open in September has already booked 10,000 room reservations for its hotel since it opened a customer call center three weeks ago, officials said Wednesday. "It really took us by surprise, the volume of calls coming in," said Bill Ernest, managing director of operations at Hong Kong Disneyland. Ernest said Hong Kong residents have made most of the 10,000 reservations at the park's 1,000-room hotel, though the park expects that about 40% of the visitors will eventually come from mainland China EDITOR’S NOTE: SAVING UP FOR OUR ASIAN DISNEY TRIP, JOEL?


What's the name of the large pirate ship at Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean?

She's the "good" ship Wicked Wench.


You'd never guess what lies behind this unassuming door ...
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If you're a frequent visitor to Disneyland Park, you've probably walked by it a dozen times and never given it a glance. Or maybe you've heard rumors among Disney fans about a fabulous place hidden away somewhere in the park, a glamorous club where celebrities hobnob and delicious aromas fill the air.

Well, the rumors are true. Tucked away in New Orleans Square behind a tasteful but inconspicuous door, just next door to the Blue Bayou, is the entry to a little joint called Club 33. The waiting list for membership can take years and few are fortunate enough to open that door – but the Disney Insider goes everywhere.

Club 33 was first conceived of by Walt Disney himself. He wanted a place where he could entertain personal friends and VIPs and show off his beloved Disneyland. To that end, he imagined a luxurious private club in the space above Pirates of the Caribbean and the Blue Bayou restaurant, lavishly furnished and offering the finest cuisine. He would maintain a private apartment next to the club, connected to it via the kitchen.

Executive Chef Marcel St. Pierre and Manager Jeff Plumb welcome you to Club 33.
Walt and Lily scoured New Orleans antique stores to find unique and lovely objects for his Club. He even had the Imagineers copy an old-fashioned elevator that caught his fancy in a Parisian hotel. "Walt and Lily wanted to buy the lift, but the hotel wouldn't sell it. So they had an exact copy made," Club 33 manager Jeff Plumb tells us.

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Sadly, Walt never lived to see this piece of his dream become reality. Club 33 opened after Walt's death, but, except for the private apartment (that space, above Pirates of the Caribbean, is now the Disney Gallery), it's just what he envisaged.

The club's members (there are currently from 470 to 490 of them) enjoy gourmet cuisine like champagne risotto, roast muscovy duck, and lamb osso bucco in two lovely dining rooms. A staff of around 70 is on hand to cater to members and their guests. "We know what our members like, we try to remember everyone's preferences," Jeff tells us. "We have one member who visits every year from Australia – he loves salmon and when he comes, we make sure he gets his salmon – whether it's on the menu or not!"

From the moment you enter the lobby, you know you're in a special place. You're surrounded by art, gleaming wood, and lavish wall coverings, and that spectacular brass elevator. Upstairs members and guests discover lovely flower arrangements, concept art from attractions like the Haunted Mansion, and even an antique harpsichord, decorated with murals by the Imagineers. Paul McCartney visited recently, Jeff tells us, and sat down to the harpsichord – which, sadly, needed tuning and refurbishing at the time.

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Members can enter Disneyland Park, and the club, 365 days a year, but they are also privy to some truly spectacular monthly members-only events – like viewing the Fantasmic! fireworks show in a reserved seating area when it debuted, then tucking into a fireworks-themed dinner, complete with a dazzling dessert featuring spun-sugar pyrotechnics. Other events have included a night featuring the wines of Fess Parker – the actor who played Davy Crockett still has a special fondness for Disney, says Jeff. "He's a great friend of ours!"

Both Marcel and Jeff began their Disney careers at other restaurants at the resort – Marcel proved himself at Disneyland Resort's lavish and lovely Granville’s restaurant before joining the Club 33 staff, while Jeff is a veteran of several of the Disney hotel restaurants.

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They agree that Club 33 is a dream job. "We have so much latitude with the menu," says Marcel. "I create the food and Jeff does the wine – we make a great team!"

Club 33 membership is within the reach of anyone who is willing to pay the annual dues, and wait … and wait … and wait … for a coveted spot to open up. Members tend to stay for the long haul – some as long as 38 years – so new openings are few and far between! However, that patience and investment are richly rewarded by a Disneyland experience truly unlike any other.

If you'd like to learn more, you can write and request an information packet and application at:
1313 Harbor Blvd.Anaheim, CA 92802Attention: Club 33

Disney's No. 2 Officer to Take Charge in September

Robert A. Iger, left, Disney's second in command, with Michael D. Eisner, the top executive, whom he will succeed.

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March 13 - The Walt Disney Company announced Sunday that its president, Robert A. Iger, who began his career as a studio supervisor 30 years ago at ABC, will succeed Michael D. Eisner as chief executive, ending Mr. Eisner's storied but tumultuous two-decade reign a year earlier than expected.

Mr. Iger, 54, has tirelessly - and sometimes uncomfortably - worked in Mr. Eisner's shadow in the five years he worked as Disney's second in command. Since he became president of Disney, Mr. Iger defended Mr. Eisner, 63, and the management team, while at the same time seeking to differentiate himself from his boss, who had become a lightning rod for grievances about Disney, a media giant with assets valued at $54 billion, including ABC, theme parks and movie studios.EDITOR’S NOTE: SOUNDS LIKE GORE AND CLINTON (GIGGLE)

The board had not planned to make an announcement this soon, according to several people apprised of its discussions over the weekend. But when Meg Whitman, the chief executive of eBay and a former Disney executive, withdrew from consideration, the board called a meeting Saturday night. Ultimately, the board agreed that Mr. Iger, whose contract ends in September, would get the job, these people said.

How long Mr. Eisner would stay was one of the main issues he and the board grappled with, the people close to the board said. In the end, Mr. Eisner agreed it was time to go. "I'm ready to move on," he said in a letter to the board on Sunday.

Mr. Iger's appointment will be effective in September. The announcement was the culmination of a shareholder revolt last year, which Mr. Eisner had sought to mollify by announcing that that he would not ask to remain as chief executive once his contract expired in September 2006. In what was widely seen as a public rebuke of Mr. Eisner's management style at the time, 45 percent of the shares cast in the 2004 board election were withheld from him.

In the letter to the board, Mr. Eisner said that he would not seek to be named chairman. Moreover, he said he would not ask to remain on the board, something many in Hollywood believed he hoped to do if Mr. Iger was named chief executive.

The transition will begin immediately, and Mr. Eisner and Mr. Iger will share the chief executive's duties for the next six months for a smooth transition, the company said.
"Bob is not Michael; no two people are alike," said the Disney board chairman, George J. Mitchell, the former senator from Maine, in an interview with reporters Sunday afternoon. Mr. Iger had the right combination of company knowledge, candor and experience dealing with others "to move this company to another level," Mr. Mitchell said.

In recent months many inside and outside of the Disney company had expected that the board would name Mr. Iger chief executive, even though the board said it was conducting a thorough and extensive executive search. The board talked to other candidates, including Ms. Whitman, who was sen as the only serious outside candidate.

In many ways, Mr. Iger was the natural choice to run Disney, having spent his whole career at Capital Cities/ABC. But Mr. Eisner, who endorsed Mr. Iger only last year, had said in the past that he had not been entirely impressed with Mr. Iger when the two first met.

As little as a year ago, few executives in Hollywood expected that Mr. Iger would be named chief executive. But in recent months, Mr. Iger successfully wooed Wall Street and members of the board. And Disney's improving fortunes at the ABC network were well timed, as Mr. Iger was given credit for hits like "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost." But previously, Mr. Eisner had been criticized by shareholders for not getting along with key Disney partners, troubles at ABC as well as for the stock's underperformance.

Mr. Iger has also been responsible for negotiating with officials in Hong Kong over construction of a Disneyland park there. Now, he will have to prove he has the ability to retool Disney. Even before Mr. Iger's new contract was signed, critics are questioned whether the board conducted a thorough search.

In a statement on Sunday, two dissident former board members, Stanley Gold and Roy Disney, the nephew of the company's founder Walt Disney, expressed scorn for the board's decision. "The pledge made by Chairman Mitchell to conduct a bona fide search was a ruse to avoid a contest at the 2005 annual meeting," said the men said in a joint statement. "Mr. Mitchell's approach to good governance is no better than a carny at the fair, enticing words but in the end the game is rigged." EDITOR’S NOTE: WELL THAT’S GOTTA STING A BIT.

Disney's board did not begin talking to outside candidates until after the annual meeting last month in Minneapolis, despite announcing the search in September, when it said the process would be concluded by June. But Mr. Mitchell said the board had evaluated a number of candidates before the winnowing began.

He would not say who was on the list, but a person apprised of the search said it included about 10 people and 3 of those people were Peter Chernin, the chief operating officer of the News Corporation, and Leslie Moonves and Tom Freston, co-presidents of Viacom. The person said the executives either could not get out of their contracts or declined to submit to the interview process. In particular, Mr. Chernin, who many thought was a natural to run Disney, had a preliminary conversation with Mr. Mitchell, said a person apprised that discussion.

Mr. Mitchell said that the board met 11 times to discuss succession, and that Mr. Iger, also a board member, did not attend those meetings. Mr. Eisner sat in on the first part of the meetings, and then nonmanagement directors met alone, he said, adding that Mr. Eisner did not attend discussions the board had with Mr. Iger about the job. And Mr. Eisner sat in on only part of one meeting with an outside candidate, Mr. Mitchell said, declining to name that candidate. However, a person apprised of the meeting said it was with Ms. Whitman of eBay.

Mr. Iger has not attracted the same ire that Mr. Eisner did in his later years, but he has also not been celebrated for having a creative vision, according to Hollywood executives. He is best known for being a hard worker with an easy charm and cool demeanor, something that could work in his favor with Disney's disaffected partners, including Steve Jobs, the chairman of Pixar Animation Studios, who battled with Mr. Eisner.

Several Hollywood executives, some who even have fought bitterly with Mr. Eisner and Disney in the past, expressed optimism at the change at the top. Harvey Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax Films, who is currently negotiating a split from Disney, said, "I've had a great working relationship with Bob Iger and think he is a terrific choice for chief executive of the Walt Disney Company."

Brian Grazer, a producer and a personal friend of Mr. Iger's, said Mr. Iger's sometimes casual demeanor could be deceptive. "Just because he appears easygoing doesn't mean he will be a pushover," Mr. Grazer said. "He is a person who cares about winning."

Further, Mr. Grazer said, Mr. Iger is unfazed by the emotional turmoil so prevalent among many of Hollywood's more outlandish entertainment executives. "He's not emotionally constructed on anger."

One of the most surprising benefits of Mr. Iger's appointment, some analysts say, is that it might end the revolving musical corporate chairs in Hollywood and bring a sense of stability to an industry that has been in turmoil the last few years. EDITOR’S NOTE: STABILITY IN HOLLYWOOD MEANS A YEAR? (IT’S SORT OF AN OXYMORON, ISN’T IT?)

"On the positive side, we can expect media investors in other companies like the News Corporation and Viacom to breathe a sigh of relief as their executive management teams will stay in place," said Richard Greenfield, a media analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners in New York. EDITOR’S NOTE: UNTIL THEY DON’T.

Disney Seeks to Recoup Court Costs From Pooh Royalties Case
· The entertainment company wants the heirs of Stephen Slesinger to pay more than $1 million.

Nearly a year after winning a hard-fought battle over Winnie the Pooh royalties, Walt Disney Co. wants its longtime adversaries to pay more than $1 million in court-related costs that the Burbank-based entertainment giant incurred to prepare and present its case.

In a hearing this afternoon, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl is scheduled to consider Disney's request to recoup $1,083,057 from the heirs of Stephen Slesinger, a New York literary agent who, in 1930, acquired Pooh merchandising rights from author A.A. Milne.

Among other things, Disney seeks to be reimbursed for the $803,528 it paid to accounting experts, court-appointed mediators and referees during the case that began 14 years ago.Court documents show that the company is demanding repayment of some of its expenditures down to the last penny.

For example, the company seeks $16,257.01 it spent serving subpoenas, including ones to several "high-risk" witnesses the company considered to be "potentially dangerous." State law provides for prevailing parties to recover some court-related costs. However, lawyers representing the Slesinger heirs plan to argue that Disney's request goes far beyond what the law allows.

In particular, the Slesinger family has chafed at Disney's assertion that it should be repaid the $151,415.27 it spent to manufacture elaborate display panels it used to make its case. Disney's attorneys referred to the large visual aids during a hearing last year to show how Slesinger-hired ruffians rifled through Disney's trash and stole confidential papers related to Pooh. Dozens of the display panels featured oversize reproductions of key documents. Some boards spotlighted color photographs of trash bins outside eight Disney buildings in Burbank and Glendale.

"The Walt Disney Co. is an entertainment company and they brought certain production values to their presentation," said Steven Sherr, an attorney representing the Slesinger family. "While aesthetically pleasing, the law says that you can only recover what's reasonable and necessary."Disney's attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, declined to comment.

Court papers filed by Disney dismissed protests by the Slesingers and their attorneys, saying: "None of these arguments have merit."

Seventy-five years ago, Stephen Slesinger, a pioneer in the business of marketing cartoon characters, paid Milne $1,000 for merchandising rights to the honey-loving bear and his forest friends. In 1961, Slesinger's widow, Shirley Slesinger Lasswell, granted Disney the rights in exchange for royalties.

In 1991, Lasswell and her daughter, Patricia Slesinger, sued Disney, claiming the company had cheated them out of hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties for the sales of videotapes, computer software and other Pooh products.

The dispute lasted more than a decade but never made it to trial.In March 2004, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles W. McCoy ended the case. After a weeklong hearing, McCoy found that the Slesinger family had tried to gain an upper hand by stealing confidential Disney documents and then lying and altering the papers to cover up the theft.

The Slesingers have appealed McCoy's decision.

Meanwhile, in a separate lawsuit in federal court, Disney is seeking to have the family's lucrative rights terminated entirely.

That Disney is being so penny-conscious now is notable, considering the huge amount of money the company saved by winning the case. Had the Slesingers' claims been proved, Disney could have lost "several hundred million dollars," the company acknowledged in a 2002 regulatory filing.

Disney lawyers are arguing, however, that the reimbursement issue is about more than money. In effect, the company asserts that by slapping the Slesingers with a bill, the court will be delivering a message about the family's conduct."As the prevailing party, Disney is entitled 'as a matter of right' to an award of its costs both to defend this lawsuit and to protect itself from [the Slesinger family's] abuse of the legal process," says one pleading.

But Sherr, the Slesingers' attorney, says today's hearing has less to do with conduct than with what costs can be considered reasonable. Sherr has objected to several amounts, including $8,320 Disney says it spent to serve two subpoenas upon one witness, an "ex-convict," according to court documents, who had been hired by the Slesinger camp to dig through Disney's trash.

And then there is the issue of the costs of Disney's elaborate courtroom displays. Disney says in its pleadings that it actually spent more than $277,000 to create and design 322 enlarged graphics for use in court. Because only 129 of those were used, court documents say, Disney is asking to be reimbursed only $151,415. Such a pull-out-all-the-stops display might have been warranted, Sherr said, if Disney's audience had been an "audience in a theater" or even a jury."But here you had a judge and some lawyers in the courtroom," he said. "It's Disney's right to use some of these exhibits, but it's an entirely different matter to have someone else pay for it." EDITOR’S NOTE: OUCH OUCH OUCH. IS ANYONE BESIDES ME ABOUT READY TO SHUT DOWN ALL THE LAW SCHOOLS FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME? (SORRY KEV).


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