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Court’s Schleiff Wins Again

2/27/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

When you enter Court TV chairman and CEO Henry Schleiff’s office you can’t help but stare agape, as you face hundreds of photos of him with political leaders and public figures, all lined up on every imaginable surface of his cavernous digs.

It’s a cleaning lady’s worst nightmare, but a montage that represents a lifetime of achievement. And not surprisingly, given the crowd he hangs with, People for the American Way Foundation is honoring him at a black-tie gala in New York on March 8.

That organization fosters freedom of thought and expression. Schleiff’s advocacy work can be seen on and off-screen. And his vigilance in fighting for cameras in the courtroom and freedom of speech are well-known.

Less known, however, is the hushed chatter going around that Court TV’s parents — Time Warner Inc. and Liberty Media Corp. — might have something bigger in mind for Schleiff. The talk hit a crescendo several months ago, when Time Warner-owned Cable News Network made some changes in its executive wing.

The talk back then was that Schleiff might play a role at CNN. But that never materialized, and he says CNN is doing just fine — and that he, too, is just fine heading up Court TV, which he says has plenty of room for growth.

I caught up with him last week to talk about what could be a big hit for him — Michael Jackson’s upcoming trial — and of course, the future ownership of Court TV.

The average Joe would think the Jackson trial would be to Court TV what a grade-five hurricane is for The Weather Channel. Not so, according to Schleiff. For starters, every news-gathering organization and entertainment show will blanket the proceedings.

By contrast, he says, cases like Laci Peterson’s draw more eyeballs, because more people can relate to such a story. Also, Court TV airs trials by day, but at night it carries non-trial programming.

And that’s what Schleiff has done to reinvent Court TV. That strategy is working: The network is enjoying a ratings spike and increased carriage under his leadership.

Nor does he seem to be particularly concerned about the future ownership of the network. Will it be solely owned by Time Warner? Schleiff wouldn’t mind that, he says, because that company knows how to run cable networks.

What about Liberty? That too would be just dandy, because that company lets their networks run their own businesses. Or will the ownership remain the same? That would be fine, too, because Schleiff is basically saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Schleiff also has plenty to say about the relationship between programmers and operators and the entry of telco TV. Court TV was among the first networks to strike a carriage deal with Verizon Communications Inc.

To watch highlights of my interview with Schleiff, visit www.multichannel.com.

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