“People are looking for predictability,” said Henry Schleiff.
It was the afternoon of Tuesday, March 24, and Mr. Schleiff the chief of the Hallmark Channel—that warm and fuzzy media outlet beloved by good, church-going citizens far, far away from the venality of American coastal life—was addressing a roomful of reporters at the network’s upfront presentation in New York.
A year ago, the network hosted the annual event touting their upcoming slate of entertainment in a large room at The Modern, Danny Meyer’s stylish restaurant at MoMA. Before the presentation, reporters were treated to a private tour of the museum’s collection.
This year, in keeping with the somber times, the festivities were scaled down a bit. About a dozen reporters and company executives sat around a table in a private room at the back of the Primehouse restaurant on Park Avenue South and sipped on modest glasses of wine.
Around 1 p.m., in the absence of a podium, Mr. Schleiff, turned around his seat at the head of the table, rested his hand on the back of the chair, and addressed the room.
These are unpredictable times, said Mr. Schleiff. Will you lose you job? Will your family collapse into poverty? Will you end up destitute and heartbroken? In 2009, who really knows.
During unpredictable times, he continued, people want predictable entertainment. With Hallmark, he said, you know exactly what you’re getting.
Will you find a Hallmark original movie airing at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night? Yes. Will it be heartwarming? Definitely. Will the handsome male lead and the attractive female actress who cross paths in the first act consummate their love (just as you suspected!) in time for the uplifting denouement? Absolutely.
“It’s very formulaic,” said Mr. Schleiff. “That’s our brand.
While other media companies were thrashing around in a tumultuous, confusing sea of unpredictability, the Hallmark Channel was thriving with the television equivalent of comfort food, according to Mr. Schleiff. In the coming year, the network would be debuting 35 original movies, he said, including such benevolently titled fare as Love Takes Wing, Safe Harbor, and Love Finds a Home.
Towards the end of his presentation, Mr. Schleiff announced that the Hallmark Movie Channel had forged a partnership with NYU’s Tisch film school. Students would compete to create Hallmark-appropriate material, said Mr. Schleiff, “anything that celebrates or uplifts the human spirit.”
Alec Baldwin has signed on as a judge.
Are NYU film students temperamentally capable of creating uplifting stories devoid of hipster references and edgy stylistic tics?
For any film student interested in putting aside the Fellini and instead looking to, say, Angela Lansbury for inspiration, Mr. Schleiff himself may serve as a role model.
After all, before joining the family-friendly Hallmark Channel, Mr. Schleiff spent years dreaming up less than wholesome programming (including, once, a potential reality series about Jeffrey Dahmer) as an provocative TV executive, first at HBO and later at Court TV.
Around, 1:15 Mr. Schleiff wrapped up his presentation. Afterwards, he sat at the table, answered reporters’ questions about his predictable, sanitary, thriving network and happily tucked into a Kansas City steak.