Bob Iger Testifies: Eisner ‘Loved’ Game Shows, Pushed ‘Millionaire’

The well-prepared and well-tailored Disney CEO sticks to the script

Anyone expecting Disney CEO Bob Iger to turn the other cheek Wednesday on the stand in the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” trial doesn’t know Bob Iger.

Celador International called Iger to testify in its $270 million claim that Disney and its TV partners bilked  the British producers of “Millionaire” out of millions in expected revenue and profits via secret arrangements and sweetheart deals.

It’s an allegation that the well-tailored Iger, who took the stand for about two hours, firmly rejected.

Disney’s “standards of business conduct” serve as a corporate guide, Iger told the court under questioning from Disney lawyer Marty Katz, “to behave ethically and fairly but not to pay people more than they might be owed.”

The obviously well-prepared Disney boss, who went from being of president of ABC Inc. to president of Walt Disney International just before “Millionaire” threw then third-place ABC a ratings lifeline, never deviated from that line — on or off the stand.

“It was 11 years ago,” Iger told TheWrap after his testimony at the courthouse in Riverside. “But based on my experience and knowledge of the business, I think today accurately reflected my recollection of what happened.”

With brief forays into definitions of annual reports, the impact of a successful show on stock prices and Disney’s bottom line in the late 1990s, much of Iger’s testimony was taken up with the origins and expectations of “Millionaire.” Specifically, he talked about when he first heard of the British game show, from whom, and what the reaction was at the very top of the company.

Under questioning from both Celador lawyer Roman Silberfeld and Katz, the name of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who ran the company from 1984 to 2005, came up again and again.

Eisner was expected to testify himself, but reportedly left the country on June 11 and is not expected back until mid-July. Plaintiff lawyers, who are expected to rest their case this week, say they will go ahead without him.

Even in his absence and with his successor on the stand, Eisner dominated the latter part of the proceedings.

Iger confirmed the 2006 videotaped deposition of Michael Davies, former vice president of alternative series and specials at ABC, who said that Eisner was immediately onboard for “Millionaire.”

“Michael loved game shows,” Iger told the court when recalling those meetings, and constantly asked his executives to “find me the next '$64,000 Question.'”

They did better — they found him the $1,000,000 one … and then some.

What's not clear is how any of Iger's testimony gets to Celador's point that Disney engaged in shady dealings; but then, nothing about the testimony thus far really has. Though much of the evidence thus far has cast aspersion on the Disney/ABC/William Morris Agency cabal — each made tremendous amounts of money on "Millionaire" — there's so far been no "smoking gun" to pin anything illegal on anyone.

But there are still witnesses left to go. And this is a civil trial, where a "preponderance of evidence" is the benchmark, rather than "proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

The trial is expected to continue until around June 29, with the jury then beginning deliberations.

Disney coverage by TheWrap:

June 15: Disney vs. Celador: Whatever Stinks, It's Not a Smoking Gun
June 9: Celador vs. Disney: Is William Morris Agency on Trial Here?
June 4: Ben Silverman Testifies in 'Millionaire' Trial — WMA Made $4M
June 2: Disney to 'Millionaire' Maker: Tough Luck
May 31: It's Disney vs. Celador in Witness-Rich Copyright Trial