HBO’s Ambitious ‘Vice News Tonight’ Postpones Launch By Two Weeks

Jerry Ricciotti for VICE News

The launch of Vice News Tonight, the unconventional half-hour nightly newscast from Vice Media and HBO, has been postponed from September 26 to October 10. Vice News chief Josh Tyrangiel presented the move as an indication of the program’s ambitions.

“We want to test it on all its various platforms and make sure it’s perfect,” Tyrangiel told a press gathering this morning at Vice’s Brooklyn headquarters, providing a first look at the anchorless newscast that combines the mini-documentary approach of Vice’s weekly HBO program with a novel use of graphics, charts and animation.

And if the content is idiosyncratic — Tyrangiel said it falls someplace between traditional newscasts and Comedy Central’s Daily Show (sans laughs) and was inspired in part by Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street — the technology behind it is equally noteworthy: Viewed on phones or tablets, Vice News Tonight will have touchscreen capability, allowing viewers to access related documents, links, additional footage and “extras.”

Greg Evans

“We’re trying to be modern and flexible,” Tyrangiel said at the loft-like HQ in Brooklyn’s hip Williamsburg neighborhood, with a full-size taxidermied bear standing at one end of a conference room.

Tyrangiel — full title: Vice’s EVP Content, News — screened a “test” episode during the informal gathering, a demonstration of what HBO subscribers can expect come October. It comprised eight segments, reflecting the range of favored Vice topics:

  • “Road to Mosul” featured correspondent Aris Roussinos’ shaky-cam report from Iraq, with dramatic footage of a wounded young boy and artillery booming in the background;
  • Jason Leopold’s report on government secrecy addressed the press’ increasing difficulty in getting hold of military documents on subjects from sexual assault to torture;
  • “America’s Deadliest New Drug” was a graphics-heavy report on the Fentanyl epidemic in Cincinnati and across the nation;
  • A segment on immigration trailed a mayor who’s openness to immigrants has damaged his popularity among constituents;
  • “Sandy Hook Reopens” visited the new school that replaced the old one following the horrendous mass shooting, noting details like the building’s bullet-proof windows;
  • A climate segment profiled a biogeoscientist conducting an experiment in temperature-manipulation on a forest to predict the land’s viability in 100 years;
  • “Fenda,” a brief look at the Chinese app of that name that disappeared after angering the government;
  • A ligh-hearted, animation-heavy technology segment on Emojis, “the fastest growing language ever.”

None of those segments will appear on the actual series — though parts might be included — but the topics indicate Vice News Tonight‘s interests, Tyrangiel said: politics and policy, civil rights and civil liberties, national security and national defense, economics, world news, climate and the environment, advanced technology, the internet and cyber security and popular culture both domestically and abroad.

“Kanye West is interesting, and not in a smarmy way,” Tyrangiel said, though he also noted that Vice won’t forget its traditional strong points, particularly immersive journalism: “We do war really well,” he said. “We’re really good at empathy … we do conflict well.” He said the nightly newscast will give Vice a chance at having “greater impact” in its coverage of people living on the fringes of society.

Asked about a typical episode’s content mix, Tyrangiel said that, while flexible, a 20- or 30-minute show might usually include two or three longer segments and two or three short segments including the graphics-heavy informational items (that’s where the Sesame Street influence comes in).

The series is designed to be flexible enough, he said, to allow for the occasional single-topic episode, though he cautioned that the show was not designed to follow a strict news-of-the-day format. “The Vice audience is very engaged with the headlines of the day,” he said, so Vice News Tonight isn’t obligated to provide what viewers already know.

“It’s going to take us a while to earn our stripes,” Tyrangiel noted at one point, conceding that creating a viewing habit won’t happen overnight. His agreement with HBO, he said, is “make it great and we’ll see what happens.”

Whatever happens, Vice New Tonight will do it without that longtime emblem of both traditional and modern news: the anchor. The HBO program will include occasional narration, with voices reflecting its audience’s diversity, but no talking head. Asked why the show chose to toss the anchor, Tyrangiel was succinct: “That’s a convention that’s a little bit old.”

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