Executive Interview: Henry S. Schleiff

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CU: Tell us a little about the programs either airing or in development you’re most excited about. I caught "Forensics: You Decide" recently and think it's a great concept. How'd that one come to the network?

HS: Investigation Discovery has a close relationship with Sirens Media since both companies are based in Silver Spring, Md. Sirens Media developed a pilot by incorporating the unique storytelling technique of presenting two completely different sides of the story through the interpretation of the forensic evidence. The result was “Forensics: You Decide,” which invites viewers to follow the evidence trail from both the prosecution’s and defense’s perspective and allows the audience to decide which version they believe. This type of programming is exactly what ID’s audiences crave – to be a part of an investigation that reveals the truth!

Another series I am excited about is ID’s first original newsmagazine, “On The Case With Paula Zahn,” which premieres Sunday, October 18. In this hard-hitting weekly series, Paula steps away from the traditional anchor chair and into the field to interview the pivotal figures shaping the stories covered in “On The Case.” Paula’s gripping interviews, some of them first-time exclusives, weave through each episode’s subject matter, which will inform, entertain and on occasion even inspire ID’s audiences.

CU: What is the key element that makes a program right for your network?

HS: Investigation Discovery’s success has been built on our ability to take viewers on a journey using the twists and turns of great storytelling. While strong characters, elements of investigations and unraveling mysteries are all critical, the common thread of Investigation Discovery’s programming is its commitment to telling great stories.

CU: What programs and/or genres are you looking for in the next year?

HS: I plan to broaden ID’s spectrum of investigative content beyond justice programming. ID will be timelier by pursuing investigations of conspiracies, terrorism, scandals and maybe even the supernatural. While justice programming will continue to be the core of ID’s programming, I want the network to embrace concepts where a mystery has been left unsolved but a crime might not have been committed.

CU: How important are other platforms like broadband and mobile applications in the initial pitch?

HS: Pitches should always consider applications for other platforms like broadband and mobile. It is vital that when we develop a show we integrate all platforms into the process from the ground up. Our content needs to work across platforms and those applications need to be taken into account from day one.

CU: What’s the best way for a producer to pitch you?

HS: Any producer can submit ideas through Discovery Communication’s Producer Portal at producers.discovery.com. Everything submitted gets reviewed by our development team. Additionally, you can contact Investigation Discovery’s development team directly: Kevin Bennett (Kevin_Bennett@discovery.com) or Jane Latman (Jane_Latman@discovery.com).

CU: What do you look for in a first-time producer besides a great idea?

HS: We want to see that the producer has worked in the genre he or she is pitching and has experience working with the style of programming that works well for Investigation Discovery. Their past performance, as well as the experience of the producer’s key personnel, contributes greatly to the network’s decision process on whether or not to move forward with an idea.

CU: What mistakes do producers make when pitching you?

HS: Producers should always take into account the future needs of the network. All too often, producers focus on where a network was and not where a network is going.

CU: What can global programmers learn from the US cable network market and from your network in particular?

HS: Investigation Discovery’s engagement numbers are remarkable and we attribute this success to our commitment to great storytelling. Global programmers can emulate this commitment and immerse their audiences within the narrative of their content. Proving that great storytelling defies borders is the fact that Investigation Discovery in its brief history, which spans just 18 months since the network’s launch in the US, has already launched in 13 international markets including the U.K.

CU: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

HS: In his book, “Adventures in the Screen Trade”, William Goldman says “no one knows anything about this business.” I think that is certainly true for the entertainment business – but, on the other hand, should give all of us confidence that our instincts and judgement are at least as good as anyone else’s. By the way, I think William Goldman’s advice holds true for all businesses and professions!

CU: What’s the best advice you’ve ever given?

HS: When asked, I always advise people to love the work they are doing. If you love what you do, success will follow. Additionally, I believe a key to success is to surround yourself with people who share your vision and are fun to be around.

CU: Who in this industry do you most admire and why?

HS: Does it sound a little “suckupish”, if I say our Board of Directors!

CU: What’s the smartest programming decision you have ever made?

HS: It’s not so much a specific choice of a series or personality – but, rather the on-going decision to surround myself with passionate and creative types, who themselves have great ideas, to which I then can help edit, shape and do the blocking and tackling to get on the network.

CU: What’s the dumbest programming decision you have ever made?

HS: At Court TV, we had a Sherlock Holmes related series and hired former heavyweight champion, Larry Holmes, to do a funny promo for it, wearing a hounds tooth coat and hat – but, he couldn’t pronounce “Holmes Box Office.” And HBO sent us a cease and desist order.

CU: In all of television, which classic program should be revived?

HS: Well, of course…Perry Mason!

CU: Should NEVER be revived?

HS: Broadcast’s last season.

Bio: Henry S. Schleiff spearheads the development, production, scheduling, research, marketing, communications and online efforts for Investigation Discovery (ID), which has been one of the fastest growing U.S. cable networks since its launch in January 2008.  As president and general manager, Schleiff has direct responsibility for driving the revenue, ratings and brand of the network, which is available in more than 54 million U.S. homes.

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