As an emerging network, AT&T’s Audience Network already boasts original programming with series like Ice, Kingdom, Rogue, You Me Her and Full Circle under its banner. Now it’s now producing a documentary focused on the relationship between African American communities and the police.
“We haven’t announced it yet, so I can’t say much,” network head Chris Long told Deadline today on the sidelines of a Hollywood Radio & Television Society event in Los Angeles. “We were interested in something that’s happening in the media, but that part of the story’s not being told. We said to ourselves, ‘You can’t do it in a soundbite, you can’t do it with four people on a split screen arguing. You have to find out what’s the real struggle, and that’s part of getting the story to be authentic.”
Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Picture Show Productions has been working on the documentary for a year, Long said. “I said [to Vaughn], ‘Listen, I would embed. Hoop Dreams, that was a five-year embedment. Let’s get people who’ve been in a difficult situation and directors who are willing to commit.’ These guys went to the top of the list, agreed with what we were thinking and wanted to make the same thing we were making.”
The docu will be directed by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, known for ESPN’s 30 For 30: The Two Escobars.
Speaking earlier today, Vaughn said of the project, “The concept is really to humanize people on both sides. I’ve had friends who’ve grown up in that environment, I’ve also had friends who are police officers, and there’s a lot of fear on both sides. I think the situation causes a lot of problems, so it’s really a chance to sit with the people and getting access to them and seeing their daily lives.”
“I want you tell me what’s a year in the life of a kid who has to live in this environment and has no opportunity,” Long added, “and then we wonder why children go down the path they do. We wanted both sides of it, we didn’t just want the kids’ point of view, we wanted the police point of view.”
Long said he’s determined to ensure the network’s content is kept fresh. “What appeals to me are environments and stories that are not being told. I don’t need another police procedural, I don’t need another courtroom procedural, I don’t need another sitcom. What I want to learn about is what we delve into. MMA for Kingdom; the diamond district in Ice; an unsolved murder where a serial killer taunts someone. That’s not something you see on TV a lot. It might be an episode, but it’s not a 10-episode arc.”
In fact, delving into topics in more intricate detail is, Vaughn said, something he credits to the influence of audio podcasts and their longer-form interview structure–something that’s particularly relevant in the talk-show genre.
Currently producing two talk shows for Audience–the upcoming Fearless With Tim Ferriss and the third season of Undeniable With Joe Buck–Vaughn said, “Personally for me, I always liked a long-form interview, if someone would be forthright and get a chance to put things in their own words, kind of like an autobiography where they get to tell you how they felt and how they experienced things. There just wasn’t a lot of long-form interviews, where you really took the time to sit with someone. Podcasts do a nice job of investigating stuff, and I’ve become a fan of a lot of the different podcasts. I like the time spent getting into those details.”
So would Vaughn consider hosting his own talk show? “I can’t afford him,” Long joked. “I have to talk to my boss.”
Another way Long is strengthening Audience’s brand is by retaining all U.S. rights to its content. “I love them to death and Netflix does an excellent job,” he said, “but we didn’t invest all that money with Kingdom for it to end up on Netflix–that would have been a bad business model. Our CEO made a declarative statement to me that anything I do going forward, we need to own it in all U.S. territories and that’s non-negotiable. I understand that and I think it’s smart because we have to differentiate ourselves from other competitors, whether it be Netflix or Hulu, but also Verizon and Comcast. We have to have a product where somebody can come to our platform and we create enough inertia on their chest for them not to leave the platform…I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t create that inertia.”
Long added that the competitive market has created something of a monster. “Not everything being produced on television is good,” he said. “I think that a lot of people are trying to boil the ocean and I don’t think that’s good for anyone. I think for the consumer, I’d rather have five or six channels that I’m really dedicated to. Competition’s great, but when it makes ridiculous quotes for actors and when it makes it more expensive than it was five years ago, then it doesn’t help any of us.”
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