Disney vs. Celador: Iger Testifies Wednesday; Eisner May Be Out

Bob Iger takes the stand first thing Wednesday morning, but Eisner, out of the country, a question mark


It's looking like former Disney boss Michael Eisner may not testify at the "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" trial after all.

Eisner was thought to be taking the stand in Judge Virginia Phillip’s Riverside courtroom later this week, after current Disney boss Bob Iger's testimony, which is firmly scheduled for Wednesday morning (see earlier story below).

But a complication arose late Tuesday when Disney lead lawyer Marty Katz informed the court that Eisner is out of the country until the week of July 10. That means the judge has no jurisdiction to compel him to appear with a subpeona.

With that wrinkle, the judge, who wanted all evidence in the case concluded by June 29 so the jury could begin deliberating, indicated that "Millionaire" creator Celador could rest its case temporarily, and let Disney lawyers begin theirs later this week. That would be the arrangement until a schedule that will see Eisner on the witness stand in a timely fashion can be worked out.

Needless to say, lawyers for both sides will now begin negotiating a window for Eisner to appear — or they may conclude that his presence isn't worth the trouble.


Here come the heavyweights!

Disney CEO and President Robert Iger will be taking the stand in the “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” trial Wednesday at 9 a.m.

It's not yet clear when former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who was in charge in 1998 when the hit U.K. game show was brought over to the U.S. and broadcast on ABC, will be taking the stand.

(Read also: Disney vs. Celador: Whatever Stinks, it's Not a Smoking Gun)

"Millionaire" creator Celador International’s $270 million suit against Walt Disney Co. and its television partners is entering its third week. Following the instructions of Judge Virginia Phillips this morning, the timing of Eisner taking the stand this week will likely be confirmed later Tuesday — or a subpoena could be issued to compel him to appear.

Both the past and present Disney bosses were on the witness list presented at the beginning of the trial.

On Tuesday morning, even before the jury was brought in, Celador attorney Roman Silberfeld and Disney attorney Marty Katz, who represents Iger but not Eisner, outlined the history of communication between the two sides on whether and when the heavyweights will appear in the Riverside courthouse.

“Mr. Iger is under control of the company,” Katz told Phillips, “Mr. Eisner is not.”

The judge instructed counsel to contact Eisner’s attorney during the first recess of the day to arrange the former CEO’s appearance.

Celador claims in the case, first filed in 2004, that Disney/ABC and its TV partners deliberately deprived the U.K. company of revenues and profits from the huge American success of “Millionaire” through a variety of secret arrangements and “sweetheart deals.” 

The past two weeks of the trial, before a nine-person jury, saw testimony from a variety of key players in the Byzantine deal that got “Millionaire” on ABC in 1999. Former William Morris agents Ben Silverman, who brought the show over to the US, and Greg Lipstone, who shepherded it on to ABC through negotiations from the agency’s Beverly Hills office, have both taken the stand.

Both the former NBC/Universal co-chair and the current ICM VP reluctantly respectively sketched out the lucrative package deal that WMA put together and the millions the agency made while Celador complained about their compensation.

Celador co-founder Paul Smith was on the stand for two days, spread out over week one and two, detailing the creation of the hugely successful show in the U.K. and its hop over the Atlantic and translation to America. Former ABC Executives, most notably the company’s Exec VP Alternative Series and Specials Michael Davies, who is now the Executive Producer of “Millionaire” in syndication, have also testified.

The evidence portion of the trial is expected to conclude around June 29, with the jury then going into deliberations.