Henry Schleiff, CourtTV
The network's turnaround man looks back at 18 years at the network -- and beyond his imminent departure.In the time that Henry Schleiff has presided over Court TV, he has taken what was once a struggling cable channel and transformed it into a thriving multimedia powerhouse. Schleiff came to Court TV in 1988 prepared for the challenge, following stints at Studios USA and Viacom, but he also has a creative side -- he even briefly wrote for NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Both sides of his brain have been put to good use at Court TV, where he came aboard as president and CEO but was promoted to chairman just a year later. Now, with Time Warner's acquisition of the network, Schleiff will transition to nonexecutive chairman of Court TV for the next six months. He spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's Andrew Wallenstein about his legacy, and his leaving.
The Hollywood Reporter: After 15 years, why was the time ripe for Time Warner to take over 100% of Court TV?
Henry Schleiff: The timing of the acquisition is quite perfect from a number of perspectives. Life as an independent cable network was not getting any easier. When you look at the issues of distribution and ad revenues, I am very proud of the amount of success we've had. I think being a part of the Turner networks now allows Time Warner to protect the foundation that we built in 86 million homes and now increases the foundation for more programming. We're nicely profitable, but with some of the economies of scale, Turner Broadcasting can significantly increase the ad revenue. There is the (potential) addition of programming that appears on TNT and the opportunity for cross-channel promotion, which we didn't have before. I think we took it to a certain level, from $300 million in asset value at the end of 1998 to what Time Warner just paid for, at $1.5 billion. I think the asset will now grow in value as Turner takes Court TV to its next plateau of growth.
THR: What do you regard as the secret to Court TV's success?
Schleiff: They say that vision is the art of seeing the invisible. What our team appreciated early on as being important in the future was having a clear brand. I think under the Turner ownership, which will now involve an emphasis on new multiplatforms of distribution -- whether broadband, wireless, iPod or (video-on-demand) -- it all starts with recognizable content and something for which there is demand. And I think what Court TV has done most successfully with a mix of daytime court coverage, expert analysis, very well-regarded anchors and along with very successful primetime schedule is that we've really created a brand that shouts and breaks through the noise of the marketplace with one singular calling card.
THR: How has the popularity of forensics helped Court TV?
Schleiff: We were very fortunate in seeing the growth of science and technology in our field. And we caught two waves, if you will. The crime-and-justice wave and then the huge advances over the last couple of years in forensics and science. We were smart enough in our programming and marketing to take advantage, whether in "Forensic Files" or "Body of Evidence" or "Trace Evidence." We've done it consistently on a number of different titles. We have been consistent in expanding the brand within the genre.
THR: What are you most proud of at Court TV?
Schleiff: Our public affairs initiatives. It's important that doesn't get lost in the transition; that's a good example of something so integral to our brand. It's where I am quite focused, actually. I think part of Court TV's mission these years is to provide a window to the system of justice -- and injustice -- in our original movies. What I don't want to get lost is our focus on capital punishment through the movies "The Exonerated" (2005) and "Guilt by Association" with Mercedes Ruehl, which examined mandatory minimum sentencing laws. There are our ongoing efforts on cameras in federal courtrooms. It's become a hot-button issue in the Senate to have cameras in the Supreme Court. There's no other network out there tilting at those windmills. It is a great example of where you can do well by doing good. Cable operators have rewarded us not only for primetime and daytime, but they understand what we do in their communities on the ground.
THR: What's next for you?
Schleiff: After six months, I'll step back and look at my options. There are few opportunities where you can help turn around something, which is what I like to do. Court TV provided me with a wonderful opportunity. I like to be part of a team. I'm a decent manager, and if you give me a decent team, we make it a really good team that gets good results. That's the fundamental story of Court TV.