Urbane exec fills card at Hallmark

Industry vet Schleiff joins older-skewing cabler

Mel Brooks would call Henry Schleiff, who took over the reins of the Hallmark Channel last week, a “dazzling urbanite,” an exec who has held top jobs at HBO, Viacom and Studios USA and, most recently, served for seven years as chairman and CEO of Court TV.

So what is the cultivated Schleiff doing as Numero Uno at Hallmark, the antithesis of big-city sophistication? The parent Hallmark Cards, known for homilies dripping with sentiment, is based in Kansas, and the net’s family-friendly programming is G and PG all the way.

Schleiff acknowledges that riding herd on programming with little edge or bite will probably force him to wait longer for tables at his favorite restaurants, Michael’s and Spago.

But he’s not only going to try to make the best of his new situation, he’s going to embrace it.

“I’m the counterprogrammer,” says Schleiff. “More than 50 of the 68 or so ad-supported cable networks that get ratings seem to put most of their focus on 18-to-49-year-old viewers.”

Schleiff is convinced cable operators, media buyers and the average Joe will all welcome a schedule of shows that any member of the family can watch without needing tranquilizers.

“I have two teenagers,” he says, “and I’m appalled by the amount of crap that television shovels at them.”

But he’s facing a marketplace that is often not kind to original Hallmark movies with titles like “The Christmas Card” and “What I Did for Love,” and reruns of “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “Little House on the Prairie.”

Because these shows skew old, Madison Avenue undervalues them. And cable operators are downright rude to Hallmark, paying the network a monthly average of only 4¢ a subscriber, one of the lowest rates in all of cable.

Try getting a table at Spago on that.

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