Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
HBO isn’t in the habit of doing traditional newsmagazine shows, and its new magazine Vice (premiering April 5) is like no series of its ilk that mainstream TV has ever seen. It’s sort of Rolling Stone-meets-The-BBC-meets-Real Time With Bill Maher. And it’s certainly not coincidental that Maher is an exec producer on the globe-trotting newsmagazine fronted by host Shane Smith. Vice is also the name of the media company that produces the show that practices a New Age-style journalism that Smith called “Immersionism” during an afternoon panel at TCA. “We have local stringers, we dress the part (of the locals), and we try not to be intrusive,” Smith explained. “We also try to be smart about it. We aren’t action junkies. We just try to get a good story. Being able to have smaller crews helps.” Smith’s Vice partner and exec producer Eddy Moretti, who joined him on the panel, stressed that the show isn’t like a traditional news crew in any way. They will hang out with story subjects for days before even beginning to record, to cultivate trust. “Because we come as storytellers, rather than journalists, we’re often welcomed into these communities. It gives us an access that allows us to tell a rich human story.”
And what kind of stories are we talking about? Stories like one in the Philippines that documents the nation’s vast gun culture and shockingly youthful assassins. “The country has a lot of political assassinations,” Smith said, “and a lot of the assassins that are recruited are 8, 9, 10 years old, because they’ll get short sentences and be out of prison. They have very lax and liberal gun laws, with 70 to 80 percent of Filipinos owning guns. They’re just everywhere… We visited underground factories where kids as young as 11 years old were learning to make guns from scrap that can’t be traced in assassinations.” Additionally, Maher’s involvement in Vice is more than ceremonial. “He’s been instrumental in how we shape the documentaries and raising it all to the level of HBO quality,” Moretti said. “He helps us select the segments, helps us make the cuts and stack the episodes together. He was attracted to work with us because we go to the places where he’d never fuckin’ go.”
Vice teammates were also asked to comment about Current TV, which was purchased this week by Al Jazeera and will reportedly be renamed Al Jazeera America. Moretti pointed out how the network had contacted Vice about buying its content early on, given their similar model and concept. “In execution, they didn’t have a really strong idiosyncratic voice,” he said, “and that’s what you need.” Added Smith: “They wanted content. We said, ‘You have more money than us, and better distribution. But we’re not going to give you our content. That’s the only thing we have.”