Rumors swirl about Ovitz and his conflict with Disney chairman Michael Eisner

By Jess Cagle
Updated October 04, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

While at the helm of Creative Artists Agency, MIKE OVITZ was often heralded as the most powerful man in Hollywood. What a difference a year makes. It’s been only 14 months since Ovitz left CAA to become president of Disney, and now speculation is running rampant over just how much power he’s lost. First, there are the much-repeated rumors that Ovitz and his new boss, Disney chairman MICHAEL EISNER, have been feuding. And though he has successfully kept the press at bay in the past, the mogul has recently been the subject of scathing articles in The New York Observer and the Los Angeles Times. Depending on what you believe, Ovitz is either (1) micromanaging Disney; (2) barred from all decision making at the studio; or (3) biding his time there until he takes over the beleaguered Sony Pictures, where he recently did some free consulting.

But nothing seems to indicate Ovitz’s seeming fall from grace more than his tempestuous relationship with NBC honcho DON OHLMEYER, who called Ovitz ”the Antichrist” in Time after Ovitz helped lure away NBC exec JAMIE TARSES to become ABC’s entertainment president in February. (Tarses reportedly threatened to sue Ohlmeyer for sexual harassment, leading to speculation that Ovitz had engineered the story to get her released from her contract.)

Intent on rebuilding a burned bridge — which insiders took as a sign of his desperation — Ovitz met with Ohlmeyer earlier this summer. The meeting went well, but according to a TV-industry source, the situation soured again when Ohlmeyer, who was debating whether to have a second meeting, heard that Ovitz was spreading word that the two had already reached a rapprochement.

While neither will comment, Jon Dreyer, Disney’s VP of corporate communications, says, ”Don had a few strong things to say publicly, and it’s time for everybody to bury all that.” A former Ovitz colleague, however, calls Ohlmeyer’s strategy political. ”Now that ABC has Disney behind it, [Ohlmeyer] has decided that the best defense is a strong offense,” he says. ”[It’s] just like Dole attacking Clinton. Ohlmeyer wants to put [ABC] on the defensive.” Ovitz bashing may also have karmic roots, since Ovitz ruffled flocks of feathers during his power-dealing days. ”Back then, these guys had to do business with him,” says the source. ”Now Ovitz is the competition. What do you expect them to say?” With words like Antichrist in play, many have great expectations.

— Jess Cagle, with additional reporting by David Poland