Schleiff to Hallmark

Hallmark Channel owner Crown Media is in the final stages of negotiations with former Court TV President Henry Schleiff to fill its vacant CEO slot. Schleiff would replace David Evans, who resigned in May after controlling shareholder Hallmark Cards failed to find a buyer for the company.

Schleiff has been parked at Time Warner Inc. headquarters since the media giant took full control of Court TV last May, buying out longtime partner Liberty Media. But Schleiff is too restless an executive to take a long break, much less retire.

Hallmark is most likely impressed with the speed with which Schleiff orchestrated Court TV’s dramatic turnaround. Schleiff, a lawyer and former Viacom syndication executive, stepped into Court TV in 1998 when the network was stuck in Nielsen’s basement with a miserable 0.2 rating. While keeping the daytime coverage of live trials, he scrapped the primetime slate of legal news and talk shows, buying syndicated programming like NYPD Blue. Ratings instantly tripled, and Schleiff later created an all-original slate of primetime non-fiction crime and justice programming.

Crown Media and Schleiff would not comment. Crown’s problems are dramatic. In the Nielsens, Hallmark Channel is a winner, a top-10 network that grew its primetime audience 28% during the third quarter, though attracting primarily older viewers. Crown has run up more than $1.4 billion in losses domestically and overseas since 2000.