Henry Schleiff, the programming executive who built Investigation Discovery into a true-crime cable juggernaut, is set to step down from his Discovery post after more than a decade at the company and 40 years in the cable TV business.
Kevin Bennett is also stepping down as general manager of Investigation Discovery. Jason Sarlanis, who is now senior VP of development for TLC, is getting a big promotion and will take over Investigation Discovery along with two other channels that Schleiff now runs. Schleiff will remain at the company through the end of the year.
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The shuffle comes as Discovery is preparing for a mega merger with AT&T’s WarnerMedia. Sources close to the situation said Schleiff’s move has been in the works for some time and is not a response to the WarnerMedia deal.
Schleiff joined Discovery in 2009 to take the reins of Investigation Discovery, or ID. On Schleiff’s watch, ID became a top 10 cable network and destintation for true-crime lovers. Schleiff embraced the genre with gusto and clever marketing that walked a fine line in drawing viewers to endless programs, mostly unscripted, focused on murder and women in peril.
“It’s been an honor — and, frankly, a lot of fun — to lead my group of networks here at Discovery over the last several years — and, especially, to see the success and unprecedented growth of ID with its informative, entertaining — on occasion, perhaps, inspiring programming. And, of course, those stunts and titles: anything better than ‘Wives With Knives?'” Schleiff wrote in a memo to Discovery staffers.
Schleiff has served as a group president for Discovery since 2015, overseeing ID as well as Travel Channel, Destination America and American Heroes Channel. Sarlanis will oversee Destination America and American Heroes Channel. Howard Lee, president and general manager of Discovery’s TLC, will add Travel Channel to his portfolio with Schleiff’s retirement.
“From the moment Henry walked into my office 12 years ago, he made an immediate impact on our company. He had a vision to make ID the number one crime network, and talked with conviction about his experience launching Court TV and understanding the importance of talent, buzz and a great story,” Discovery CEO David Zaslav wrote in a memo outlining the changes. “Henry and his amazing team not only made ID the top crime network, they made it a top five network in all of cable. Since he started, ID has been one of the great growth stories in TV, having positioned the company to be a leader in True Crime across linear, streaming and Discovery+, as well as a global leader that expanded Discovery’s portfolio to complement and compete in almost every market in the world.”
Sarlanis’ star rose at Discovery with the success of its dating show “90-Day Fiancé,” which has been one of cable’s most-watched programs in recent years. Like other brand leaders at Discovery, Sarlanis is also tasked with developing original content for the Discovery Plus streamer.
Schleiff is well known throughout the cable business for his programming and marketing savvy, his quick wit and his sartorial flair with dapper suits. He’s been a key mover in cable since joining HBO in 1980. He segued to Viacom International in the late 1980s. He also headed Hallmark Channel from 2006 to 2009 and Court TV from 1999 to 2006. From 1996 to 1998, he worked in TV development for Barry Diller’s Studios USA.
Sarlanis joined Discovery in late 2016. Before that, he spent eight years at E! and also served a stint at Ryan Seacrest Productions and as VP of specials and alternative series at ABC from 2014 to 2016.
Bennett, executive VP, has been with Discovery for more than 20 years. He has been general manager of ID and American Heroes Channel since 2012.
Here is Zaslav’s full memo:
I would like to inform you of Henry Schleiff’s next chapter. After many years and countless accomplishments at Discovery, Henry has decided to leave Discovery as Group President of ID, Travel Channel, AHC and Destination America to focus on his passion for production, including a first look for Discovery networks.
From the moment Henry walked into my office 12 years ago, he made an immediate impact on our company. He had a vision to make ID the number one crime network, and talked with conviction about his experience launching Court TV and understanding the importance of talent, buzz and a great story. Henry and his amazing team not only made ID the top crime network, they made it a top five network in all of cable. Since he started, ID has been one of the great growth stories in TV, having positioned the company to be a leader in True Crime across linear, streaming and Discovery+, as well as a global leader that expanded Discovery’s portfolio to complement and compete in almost every market in the world.
Henry has been a source of leadership, wisdom and crazy humor, with an experienced perspective on how to tell great stories and market them. There is no one who can title a show better than Henry. From Wives with Knives to Southern Fried Homicide to Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry? Henry taught a lot of us about showmanship and the power of breaking through, being authentic and using emotion to drive narrative. I will miss our chats and passionate debates…and no question, our leadership meetings will certainly not be the same! Henry will stay until the end of the year.
Separately, Kevin Bennett, the general manager of ID and Group EVP of programming for Travel and ID, has decided that after a fantastic 25-year career at Discovery, now is the time to step away to look for new challenges. We are sorry to see him go. His leadership on ID, AHC, Destination America, Discovery Channel and so many other brands has been tremendous.
We are excited to share with you that Jason Sarlanis will be promoted to President, Crime & Investigative Content and will begin to transition into that role immediately, reporting to Kathleen Finch. Jason has done a fantastic job spearheading the expansion of the 90-Day franchise at TLC under Howard Lee’s leadership. We are thrilled to bring some of the magic behind 90-Day and Jason’s nose for cultural buzz to ID as well as to discovery+, where his genres are among our most popular. Jason will also assume responsibility for AHC and Destination America. Further leveraging TLC’s secret sauce for entertainment, cultural relevance and authentic storytelling, Howard will now broaden his portfolio with the addition of the Travel Channel. Travel Channel GM Matt Butler, who has led our successful pivot to paranormal on Travel and discovery+, will now report into Howard.
Please join me in wishing Henry and Kevin nothing but the best and great thanks for all the value they created, talent they have nurtured, and all the leadership, commitment and dedication to Discovery over the years. And congratulations to Howard and Jason on their expanded leadership roles.
Here is Schleiff’s full memo:
It’s been an honor – and, frankly, a lot of fun – to lead my group of networks here at Discovery over the last several years – and, especially, to see the success and unprecedented growth of ID with its informative, entertaining – on occasion, perhaps, inspiring programming. And, of course, those stunts and titles: anything better than “Wives With Knives”?
Our performance has been due in no small measure from the support at the top from Zas, Kathleen and others – and, even more so, from the uniquely talented and dedicated team I have been fortunate to guide me, correct me – and, laugh with me.
With my networks now positioned for the next act in their contributions to what will be an even larger and more successful company, I thought year end would be the perfect time to step back from my corporate responsibilities and enjoy the opportunity I will then have to produce for a marketplace that is so clearly growing in demand for new content, in all formats. The timing of all this will also allow me to be more active as a Board Member at my various not-for-profits, including UNICEF and RFK Human Rights – and, to contribute to the Innocence Project. Indeed, my sadness in leaving is well offset by the excitement of working with old friends and new, with the common goal of success…and, fun!
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