Veteran TV exec Henry Schleiff is stepping down as president and CEO of Crown Media, parent of the Hallmark Channel, at the end of May and will be replaced by William Abbott, exec vp ad sales at the company.
The resignation was announced jointly Wednesday afternoon by Schleiff and Donald Hall, Jr., co-chairman of Crown Media Holdings.
Schleiff’s decision to resign came after discussions in which he indicated he had accomplished what he was brought in to do at the company and expressed a desire to return to his passion of helping smaller cable networks achieve their potential.
There was no official indication of what role or position Schleiff might play elsewhere, but tongues have begun wagging. One financial analyst, who declined to be quoted, suggested that the exec could play a useful role on the cable side at Viacom, where Schleiff was CEO of the Broadcast Group a decade ago.
He had been in the role at Hallmark for 2 1/2 years, and under his aegis, ratings shot up, the Hallmark Movie Channel was launched, a three-dozen-strong annual slate of TV movies got made, and cable carriage deals were expanded. Before that, Schleiff ran Court TV.
“Under his leadership, Hallmark Channel has enjoyed significant growth and success across the board in ratings, revenues and distribution,” said Hall, who also is president and CEO of Hallmark Cards.
“It has been both a pleasure and a privilege to work with an organization that has one of the world’s great brands and with a group of people who are dedicated to protecting and expanding it,” Schleiff said.
He made no bones about the fact he wants to go for “a hat trick” after Court TV and Hallmark. “I was thinking about just walking the dogs, but they growled,” he said. “I helped the kids with homework, and their grades suffered.”
Abbott joined Crown Media in 2000 and is currently responsible for national ad sales, Internet services and digital network development for Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel. He will assume the post of president and CEO on June 1.
Abbott has more than 20 years of leadership experience in family television. He joins a growing list of ad mavens who have taken over as heads of cablers, including Charlie Collier at AMC and David Levy at Turner Broadcasting.
During Abbott’s tenure at Hallmark Channel, ad revenues ballooned from $10 million in 2000 to $223 million in 2008, setting the channel apart as an industry leader in customized advertising and sponsorships.
Abbott told THR that he inherits “a well-oiled machine” from Schleiff and does not foresee wholesale changes to the programming strategy. A replacement for his current role will be announced in the next few weeks.
Prior to joining Crown Media, Abbott held numerous management roles with Fox Family Worldwide, including Fox Family Channel and Fox Kids Network.
“Bill has had a hand in all aspects of the cable business — from research, to programming, to production and ad sales,” Hall said.
Crown Media includes Hallmark Entertainment, a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, Liberty Media and JPMorgan Partners, each through their investments in Hallmark Entertainment Investments, VISN Management (a for-profit subsidiary of the National Interfaith Cable Coalition) and DirecTV.
At one point several years ago, Crown considered selling off the Hallmark Channel but, given its return to profitability — now at $66 million — apparently has changed its mind.