The former head of Court TV, cable vet Schleiff is now the guy responsible for all those made-for-TV tearjerkers your grandmother loves. He's head of Crown Media, the owner of the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel.
A native of Lawrence, Long Island, Schleiff went to college at the University of Pennsylvania and law school at Penn Law; while a law student, he started submitting jokes to Saturday Night Live via a friend who was a staff writer for the show, specializing in crafting bits of papal humor for Father Guido Sarducci. After a few early-career positions in the legal world—he clerked for federal district court judge Murray Gurfein, and worked as an associate at Davis Polk—Schleiff moved to media, taking jobs at HBO, Viacom, and Barry Diller's Studios USA, where he oversaw talk shows like The Maury Povich Show.
But he's best known for heading up Court TV (now known as TruTV), the Steve Brill-founded network he joined in 1998. As the channel's chief executive, Schleiff transformed it from a struggling also-ran (it was dead last among cable channels in Nielsen ratings) into a relative powerhouse thanks to the addition of syndicated entertainment programming (Homicide: Life on the Street, NYPD Blue, Cops), which diverted from Brill's original, serious-minded vision for the network but dramatically increased viewership. Schleiff also helped expand the franchise with several acquisitions such as Court TV's purchase of Bill Bastone's The Smoking Gun in 2000. He bid goodbye to CourtTV in 2006 when he took the top job at Hallmark's Crown Media.
As CEO of Crown Media, Schleiff presides over both the Hallmark Channel and its smaller sister channel, the Hallmark Movie Channel. Both networks specialize in the kind of programming that retirees in Des Moines leave on in the background while knitting— white-bread TV movies and endless reruns of shows like Murder, She Wrote and Little House on the Prairie. Schleiff's big challenge these days is roping in younger audiences and diversifying the channels' core viewership to appeal to advertisers. But just how long he'll remain at the prestige-free backwater property is unclear. Many expect that the inveterate schmoozer (who can be found most weekdays hobknobbing with fellow media machers from his customary Table 6 at Michael's) will jettison Hallmark as soon as a more high-profile gig comes along.
Schleiff once tried to set up his buddy Henny Youngman with his widowed mother. It didn't take.