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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hong Kong DL: The reason Disney parks jumped the shark

Have you heard the term 'jump the shark'? It refers to Happy Days, when Fonzie jumped a literal shark on water skis, and the show started to go downhill from there.

When did Disney parks lose their luster and start to go downhill? A lot of people blame it on Eisner (and especially on the loss of partner Frank Wells).

That's mostly true. But another truth could be pointed to: the quitting of upper park management, the bi-coastal team of Dick Nunis and Norm Doerges. It wasn't until this week I learned why Dick had left the company - turns out for the same reason as Norm. Both of them were angry at Eisner for insisting on a park at Hong Kong.

Dick had wanted Australia - badly - and felt a communist country was the wrong place to be, just for political reasons. And that Chinese people didn't know the Disney characters. (He's right about that!)

When Eisner insisted, Dick had had enough. He'd been annoyed and burned once before (he wanted Spain for the Euro park, not Paris) and this was the icing on the cake. So he left.

When he left, the parks stopped focusing on the very things which had kept the cast happy and family-like for so many decades:

1. history
2. tradition
3. training

They went right out the window. I was there in those years and saw it happen. Hearing Dick reminisce about those times this week really struck a nerve with me.

Odd to think that a big, thus-far-unacknowledged part of the reason for such a huge change in the parks is Eisner's insistence that the company build in Hong Kong. I guess we all suffer for that little park that's still struggling.