Cynopsis is honored to present industry legend and Discovery, Inc. Group President Henry Schleiff – responsible for true crime phenom Investigation Discovery, along with American Heroes Channel, Destination America and, since April, Travel Channel – with the Luminary Award at the TV Awards ceremony on February 6 in NYC. Here, the visionary programming leader offers insights on making crime – among other things – pay.
Cynopsis: When you started ID, did you expect it to become such a huge success?
Henry Schleiff: From the very beginning, I believed that ID could become a top-10 network – in fact, that was literally my first conversation with David Zaslav when we discussed the possibility of my joining Discovery. In any event, with the support – and often guidance of my terrific team, led by Kevin Bennett – we’ve surpassed that goal and are now the #1 network for women 25-54, in total day.
Cynopsis: True crime programming is hardly new – what spin does ID take that made the network take off?
Schleiff: What makes us different from everyone else is that we tell real stories about real people involving the high stakes of life and death featuring the most malevolent and most noble aspects of human nature. Also, true crime storytelling is all that we do, 24/7, offering viewers the benefits of consistency and predictability in a confusing world of choice. That, I think, is the definition of a “brand.” We produce a unique mix of programming that also gives us the privilege of working with dedicated investigative journalists like Paula Zahn and Tamron Hall, as well as experts who are leaders in their fields like Lt. Joe Kenda, former prosecutor Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi and former FBI profiler Candace Delong. Above all else, we appreciate and respect the fact that victims and family members trust us with their stories.
Cynopsis: ID is a remarkable balance of guilty pleasure and force for social good. Was that always in the plan?
Schleiff: What’s the adage, “man plans, God laughs.” I don’t know if we had a plan – we just have great people who are passionate, talented – and fun to work with!
We certainly love that our viewers binge our shows – people who enjoy true crime really gravitate to our content, hour after hour, giving us the longest length of tune in all of cable, ad-supported and pay – a uniquely high level of engagement, which makes us so attractive to advertisers. If you give our viewers – “fans,” if you will – something new to watch, they will find it and that’s why we’ve consistently produced more than 650 hours of new content every year for the past few years and why we put all our content onto the ID GO platform as soon as it airs – and, sometimes, even before.
While we can’t forget that television is an entertainment medium, we certainly always keep in mind the power that a network can have in our country, today. In that regard, we have made a concerted effort to feature programming that sheds a Klieg light on the challenges of the justice system, which we hope inspires intelligent dialogue and, where needed, appropriate action. We certainly air a number of specials throughout the year, which reflects our “social justice” mission – from our Love & Hate Crime series, which focused on civil rights and racial bias, to our Barbara Kopple documentary, A Murder in Mansfield, about the collateral damage that violence can have on a family, to our Hate in America series with the Southern Poverty Law Center. We provide a voice, a voice of the victims. They are the ones who need it the most. Our viewers know that we will treat these stories with respect and, in some cases, educate them on an issue from a different perspective. All considered, there’s no reason we can’t be a network that makes a profit … and a difference.
Cynopsis: How are you putting your stamp on Travel Channel?
Schleiff: I am so excited to be working on Travel Channel with the team there, led by Jane Latman, who are doing such creative things with the brand. We have so many new and exciting series coming to the schedule in 2019, along with established classic signature favorites like the return of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, hosted by the iconic Bruce Campbell. We really want to make the network a home for those seeking a sense of adventure, who aren’t afraid of the unexpected – the myths, mysteries and the unknown – that take you to the farthest reaches of … your imagination! We love great stories and want to take viewers on the journey with us, so stay tuned for more announcements, on new series coming soon! I just left Zas’ office and told him I believe Travel can become a top-10 network … Sound familiar?