A lawyer and veteran programming executive will be holding
court at Courtroom Television Network as the beleaguered channel's new president and
Henry Schleiff, an alumnus of USA Networks Inc. and Viacom
International Inc., was appointed to head Court TV last week. And he promised that Court
TV's restructured management will invest heavily in original primetime programming
that's "inspirational" in nature, as well as paying for promotion to revive
the ratings-challenged network.
"They have a unique asset with 32 million
subscribers," Schleiff said. "They will commit the resources to do the
programming and marketing ... They told me to come up with a business plan for
Schleiff, 50, was introduced to Court TV's staff last
Monday by Time Warner Inc. president Richard Parsons. Schleiff, who joins Court TV Oct. 1,
most recently was executive vice president for Studios USA, where he oversaw production of
programs such as The Maury Povich Show.
During his career, Schleiff also did a turn as senior vice
president of Viacom, as well as chairman and CEO of Viacom's broadcast and
Schleiff was the executive chosen by Time Warner and
Liberty Media Group -- which bought out the third Court TV partner, NBC, in May, for a
reported $70 million -- to put the trial network back on course after more than one year
of uncertainty. He will essentially replace Thayer Bigelow, who will now act as a
consultant for the network.
The two remaining Court TV partners have committed to make
the financial investment necessary to create original primetime programming for the
network and to market it, according to Schleiff. However, he declined to specify how much
money they will ante up.
Schleiff said he would like to see reality-based series,
specials and documentaries in primetime that emphasize the human element and emotional
drama surrounding trials and legal issues.
"Original programming is necessary to brand this
network," he said. "We will beef up our presence in primetime with programming
that is original and inspirational ... programming that informs, and that is entertaining
Schleiff added that Court TV will continue its mandate of
offering live trial coverage during the day. "It's what we do very well,"
One of Court TV's problems is that other networks,
from the broadcasters to the cable all-news channels, have increased their legal coverage
and become more savvy about the subject, according to Ellen Oppenheim, senior vice
president and media director of Foote, Cone & Belding New York.
"If [Court TV's] going to be viable, it's
going to have to add value to the information that people are already getting,"
Oppenheim said. "[Schleiff's] got a tough challenge."
Several Court TV staffers said they were relieved and
heartened by Schleiff's appointment and his programming experience.
Earlier this year, Discovery Communications Inc. tried to
acquire Court TV, planning to use its analog shelf space for one of its existing networks,
such as The Travel Channel. DCI lost that bid, then another bidder -- an investment group
led by NBC Cable executive Tom Rogers -- also took a $300 million run at the network and
Schleiff will report to a board that includes Parsons,
Liberty president Robert Bennett and Terry McGuirk, chairman of Turner Broadcasting System
Inc. Time Warner is the network's managing partner, and it will oversee day-to-day
operations at Court TV, the operations of which will remain in Manhattan.