There's relatively little in the book that directly relates to animation. Stepakoff was involved with the scripts of Brother Bear and Tarzan at Disney, though coverage of these projects is brief. He does speak highly of the storyboard artists at Disney, though.
That is one of the strengths of the book. While it relates many questionable policies and decisions that the author encountered, the book is free of derogatory remarks about the people Stepakoff has worked with or observed. One would hope that would serve as a standard for future industry memoirs and (dare I say it) blogs.
The parallels with animation are present, though. When the FCC changed the regulations allowing broadcasters to own their own programming, rather than buy it from independent producers, the broadcasters went on a spending spree signing writers to exclusive development deals. The thinking was that writers were the ones to create hits, so the broadcasters wanted to monopolize the talents of the writers with the best resumes. The problem was that the competition drove up the cost of the contracts and the results didn't justify the expense, causing many writers to be dumped and the networks to have to move to cheaper programming like reality shows.
In animation, the situation is similar to the '90s boom where studios like Disney, DreamWorks and Warner Bros. fought to sign up art talent, driving the cost of that talent through the roof. The expectation was that Lion King-sized grosses would continue and when they didn't, the studios eventually downsized, leaving many artists out of work.
The competition for talent, and the resulting rise in costs, seems to make sense in the short term; a company can't afford to let its competitors corner the market on talent. However, the competition is ultimately self-destructive as the frenzy to hire is rarely balanced against realistic income expectations.
There is one amazing quote in the book from an internal memo written by Michael Eisner. I'm not quoting it to vilify Eisner but because I think it's a perfect expression of a certain kind of short-sighted business mentality.
"We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective."The first irony is that at the time Eisner wrote this, he was the president and CEO of a company that had been built completely on making history, art and a statement (Steamboat Willie, Flowers and Trees, The Three Little Pigs, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Disneyland, etc.). The other irony is that if you eliminate making history, art or a statement, the only thing remaining is formula. The problem with formula -- any formula -- is that it's a recapitulation of something that's already been successful, which limits a company to imitation and eventually dooms the audience to boredom. When an audience gets bored, a company built on a formula is stuck with little salable product. Surely, it was pressure over the quality of Disney's product and the resulting decline in revenues that was responsible for Eisner's ouster, meaning that Eisner was a victim of his own business philosophy.
Unfortunately, that philosophy is all too common inside media conglomerates and while Stepakoff is somewhat optimistic about the future of television (perhaps because it's still where he earns his living), Michael Eisner's approach suggests to me that television's future is far from certain.