NEW YORK (AP) — Henry Schleiff wants to simplify your life.
He wants to school you in life lessons.
He wants to hook you on crime.
As a group president at Discovery Communications, Schleiff is boss of Investigation Discovery, or ID for short, a network whose motto might be: “Where bad things happen to good (or hapless or downright clueless) people.”
ID is awash with real-life tales of greed, passion and outright evil served up with sassy titles like “A Crime to Remember,” ”I Almost Got Away With It” and
“Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?”
Hooked?! Think of watching ID as being turned loose in a frozen yogurt shop: one delectable product in countless flavors you just can’t stop spooning up.
Meanwhile, ID guarantees you practical tips.
“If you live on a farm and it’s Halloween and there’s a storm, you don’t go down to the barn when you hear the door clanging,” advises Schleiff, reflecting on a sample episode’s message. “Or: If you meet a guy in a library who’s writing a book on serial murders, you don’t invite him to move in with you right away.”
Good to know. But what about ID making life simpler?
“Mystery and suspense is the most popular storytelling genre in the world,” says Schleiff, “and there are lots of places on TV where you can watch it in bits and pieces. But we’re the only network dedicated to it 24/7, 365 days a year. In a world of confusion, with 8,000 TV networks, we can simplify things: We tell a good story any time.”
So you might say ID is like whodunit wallpaper?
“It is absolutely wallpaper!” Schleiff agrees proudly.
He is a showman, a tireless promoter, a man who, at 67, describes his unflagging workplace gusto by citing Woody Allen’s statement of affection in “Annie Hall”: “Forget ‘like’ or ‘love,’” says Schleiff. “I ‘luuurve’ this stuff!”
He arrived at Discovery in 2009, when the fledgling ID was ranked 50th among cable networks. Now available in 86 million homes, it is a top 10 network in the 25-to-54 demo and No. 1 in all of television among women 25-to-54 for how long they watch before changing the channel — nearly an hour. In addition, he oversees American Heroes Channel, Destination America, Discovery Family Channel and Discovery Life Channel.
Until 2009, he was head of Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel, and from 1998 to 2006, the boss of Court TV, which he pulled from the brink by introducing forerunners of ID-like crime fare to its prime-time lineup.
He began as a lawyer who, on the sly, submitted jokes to “Saturday Night Live,” though without success. But his comic muse has served him since, like during staff powwows where prospective shows, and the wacky titles for them, are cooked up. He counts “Wives With Knives,” a title as self-explanatory as it is euphonious, among his creations.
“We do the titles with a wink,” Schleiff says. “Marketing, showmanship — we do anything, including those titles, to bring attention to our programming.”
Concepts for series come from the network’s programming team as well as from the stable of independent producers tapped to make the shows.
What results are constantly replenished variations on a theme, with many ID series drawing from a shared pool of conventions: a victim and a perpetrator (often bonded by blood, marriage or raw passion); on-camera testimony from friends and family, law enforcement officials, maybe a psychologist, and a journalist who covered the story.
There are dramatizations, whose characters may closely resemble their real-life counterparts or, strangely, bear scant resemblance. It can go either way.
And most of the shows boast overheated narration, such as with the close-knit family whose “fabric will soon be torn under the strain of sex, lies and extraordinary allegations.”
And don’t forget the teenage girl who may have gone too far with her boyfriend: “There could be hell to pay if Ashley’s parents think she’s spreading more than her wings.”
However soothingly familiar are the elements of each case, there is no end of fresh cases. The network airs 650 hours of originals each year, nearly two new hours every day. It does that by keeping production costs low— about $350,000, Schleiff says, roughly 1/10th the typical cost of a broadcast network’s prime-time scripted hour.
ID mostly relies on its own stable of stars (such as Candice DeLong, former FBI agent and profiler, who hosts “Facing Evil” and “Deadly Women”), though Jerry Springer, Paula Zahn and Tamron Hall all have series. New shows in the pipeline include Wendy Williams with “Death by Gossip,” ”Barbara Walters Presents American Scandals” and filmmaker Joel Schumacher with “Do Not Disturb: Hotel Horrors” (“Guess what’s going on in THAT hotel room!” laughs Schleiff).
The network is also dabbling with scripted fare, but it, too, will always draw from real life.
“We have a formula and we know how to do what we do,” Schleiff explains. “We just want to find ways to do it better.”
And he wants to keep spreading his crime wave.
“There are still people who don’t know what ID is, never heard of it,” he acknowledges.
But he doesn’t seem worried: “If they watch five minutes, they’re more likely than not to watch to the end. Then they’ll watch episode 2. And then they’ll watch another series.”
“Then they’re halfway to becoming an ID addict!”