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Thursday, February 09, 2021

As foretold yesterday, Al Michaels today officially left his longtime home at ABC Sports for a stint on NBC’s new Sunday Night Football broadcast (and, I’m hoping, some NHL gamecalling on the side).

The unusual part? To allow him to get out of his contract, ABC parent Disney engineered a sports-like trade for Michaels, getting NBC to cough up an interesting package of items:

- Rights to broadcast live Friday coverage of the Ryder Cup golf championship between the United States and Europe in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014, as well as the right to re-air NBC coverage and extended highlights.

- Expanded Olympics highlights from this year through 2012.

- Monday Night Football promotions during the NBC Sunday night through 2011.

- Expanded highlights from Notre Dame football, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness through 2011.

And, last but certainly not least: The rights to estranged Walt Disney creation Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. (And I foolishly thought I was the only one who’d find that amusing.)

It seems that NBC acquired the long-dormant Oswald when they merged with Universal, and someone at Disney noticed. I’d love to hear the anatomy of this deal, and how the Oswald component happened to get tossed in. I’m guessing the two sides had been talking about it for a while, and found the Michaels deal the opportune time to finally dispose of this little intellectual property detail.

Yup, Michaels was traded for a cartoon rodent. Talk about letting the door hit you on the way out. Here’s an idea for the Disney boys to twist the knife further: Make Oswald the new MNF mascot! It’ll serve to highlight Michaels’ absence.

UPDATE: Turns out Al’s taking the trade in good humor:

“Oswald is definitely worth more than a fourth-round draft choice,” Michaels said, referring to what the Kansas City Chiefs gave the New York Jets as compensation for releasing coach Herm Edwards from his contract. “I’m going to be a trivia answer someday.”

As for Oswald, the Disney brass is spinning the reunion with the rabbit as, improbably, a high-priority matter:

“As the forerunner to Mickey Mouse and an important part of Walt Disney’s creative legacy, the fun and mischievous Oswald is back where he belongs, at the home of his creator and among the stable of beloved characters created by Walt himself,” Disney president Robert Iger said after Thursday’s announcement…

NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said ABC Sports and ESPN president George Bodenheimer called last month to initiate talks, which culminated in an agreement Tuesday.

“He told me this incredible story that Walt’s first really big production as a cartoonist for the cinema had been a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which was before Mickey,” Ebersol said. “And for reasons that aren’t still totally clear to me, Walt lost those rights. He didn’t have the money to hold onto them.”

Disney and his partner, Ub Iwerks, created the rabbit in 1927 at the request of Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures, and made 26 silent cartoons. After Disney learned that Universal held the rights, he created a new character, eventually named Mickey Mouse, who resembled Oswald, but with shorter ears.

Universal continued to make Oswald films from 1929-38 — Mickey Rooney was one of his voices — and appeared in a comic book from 1943-62.

“We earn nothing from those rights; they’ve had no value in the United States,” Ebersol said.

The Walt Disney Co. had been trying to reacquire the rabbit for some time.

“When Bob was named CEO, he told me he wanted to bring Oswald back to Disney, and I appreciate that he is a man of his word,” Walt Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller said in a statement. “Having Oswald around again is going to be a lot of fun.”

How much value does Oswald have? I can’t imagine it’s much, evidenced by his dormancy all these years. At best, NBC Universal could have made something out of emphasizing the character’s creation by Walt Disney, but aside from impressing cartoon historians, it wouldn’t get an awful lot of mileage. In Disney’s hands, the rabbit serves as a nice piece of the Walt puzzle to put in place.

It’s funny to think how much weight Walt Disney’s artistic legacy still holds in a mega-media company that he’d never recognize as being descended from his work. But it’s also refreshing, in a way.

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 02/09/2021 04:46:08 PM
Category: TV, SportsBiz, Business | Permalink |

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  1. He does look a little like Mickey Mouse…

    Comment by Gary LaPointe — 02/09/2021 @ 08:09:28 PM

  2. Who, Al or Oswald? ;)

    Yeah, ol’ Walt definitely had rodents on the brain during his formative creative period. He must have been onto something, though — consider Mickey’s biggest cartoon rival is Bugs Bunny, another rodent. And when those two are cast as the most prominent symbols of their modern corporate parents (Disney vs. Time Warner), it gives me the chuckles.

    Comment by CT — 02/09/2021 @ 08:18:43 PM

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