In Depth

In Their Own Words: Henry Schleiff

President and CEO of Crown Media Holdings

It’s coming up on 20 years that I’ve known Regis. In 1988, when I was at Viacom, his show was just going into national syndication, I got a call from his agent, whom I’ve also been friends for years with. Jimmy Griffin called and said, “We’re going to roll this show out into syndication and what about Viacom,” which had ”Cosby” and a lot of strong properties in syndication, and I was overseeing that area. He said, “Would you make a bid for this show in syndication? It’s got to be fairly aggressive terms.” Sumner Redstone had just bought Viacom in 1987.

I went off and spent a little time with Regis and his wife, Joy. We came back and I made a bid on behalf of Viacom. I called Jimmy—Regis knows this story—and I said, “We can’t afford to do the deal, but we’ll be like a stalking horse for you because I like Regis so much. You can use our bid to maybe drive up some other bids.” He said, “Hey, that’s cool.” That’s how I met him. Buena Vista won the rights.

Cut to seven, eight years later, I’m at Universal and his deal is coming up with Buena Vista. Jimmy looks around and I said, “Oh, man. We would love to have Regis.” Then we had Sally Jessy Raphael. We had Jerry Springer. We may have just gotten Maury Povich. All of which reported to me. I thought Regis would be the perfect addition. I wined and I dined him and Joy, and this time it was really a very good, strong bid. We offered him guaranteed compensation and everything else that he was making at Buena Vista. We offered some interesting other perks at the same time. But it’s kind of an indication of Regis that even though our offer was greater than Buena Vista, he’s such a combination of a loyal guy and a creature of habit that he said he just couldn’t leave.

I haven’t come back to him a third time yet, but I’m getting ready. I’m putting my nose under the tent with this special [“Hallmark Heroes” on June 27]. I’m going to offer him 52 specials next year.

I think a lot of people view themselves as his best friend. He’s one of my absolute best friends. We both love Dean Martin. The phone will ring and it’s 11 o’clock at night. I pick up the phone. Cut to cold opening: “You watching?” “Hello?” “You watching?” “Hello?” “You watching Dean, this special, ‘Best of Dean’s Roasts,’ or something. It’s Dino.” You can only do that with a best friend. He is my best friend because he brings out the best in me. He is like this bizarro version of Will Rogers. He brings out the best in people and in situations. He rages against everything. He rages against the storm of technology. He rages against the storm of cuteness. He rages against the storm of things he doesn’t understand with great humor. It’s just a way we all fundamentally relate to him.

I have one criticism. I think he is the one person in the room who doesn’t know his self-worth. It’s not false modesty. He has only grown as an icon in America. I think one of the people who recognizes it most clearly is Letterman. [Regis will] tell me when he’s on Letterman. Most recently when he was on, Letterman sits in the chair next to Regis, not behind the desk. I thought that was, personally, in reading the Kremlinology of Letterman, of saying, “We’re equals. You come to my ‘home,’ we’re equals.”