Vice Media is, in a word, prolific. Four video-driven websites, a magazine, two new YouTube channels in the works and a TV presence in 24 countries are just a few of its manifestations. A recent Forbes article
said that with the help of former Viacom CEO Tom Freston as adviser, Vice is poised to become the next online MTV. And soon it will be gunning for cable eyeballs, too, with a show to air on HBO: “a ’60 Minutes’ meets ‘Jackass’” for younger people, according to Vice co-founder Shane Smith. The series will tackle Siberian slave labor camps, North Korean virtual slaves, child suicide bombers in Afghanistan and teen assassins in Peru. Not for the faint of heart. It’s “a lot of sort of newsy, the world’s gone mad kind of stuff,” said Smith.
Though it began as a fashion and pop culture-focused magazine, Vice has expanded its reach to include international news coverage. “News has been our biggest brand-builder over the past 4 or 5 years,” said Smith. “Famously I always say if Vice is doing news then the world is f*@ked. Because we came up as a style mag about rare denim and trainers.” But after winning the Critics’ Choice in Toronto for a doc on the heavy metal music scene in Baghdad and received an outpouring of support from fans, they realized they were on to something.
And so did the networks. According to Smith, Vice was approached my many, including a “big one” that he can’t name, since it’s possible they’ll work with it in the future. Vice’s agent, Endeavor’s infamous Ari Emanuel, suggested that HBO was the best choice. “We met Richard Peppler and Michael Lombardo at HBO. Those guys are just awesome,” said Smith. “Peppler is a really political guy. We got along well and decided we’d do it with them.” A greater likelihood of scoring an Emmy and more creative freedom were two of the upsides. “HBO is the gold standard, so for us to do a new show with them, we’re pretty excited. But generally it’s for people who still consume their media on linear formats.”
Hardcore fans know that Vice tried a news show in late 2010 on MTV, called “The Vice Guide to Everything.” But it only ran a season. Parting ways was a mutual decision, according to Smith, and that was fine by them since Vice had other offers. “MTV sort of went from the ‘Jackass’ time with lots of males to ‘Teen Mom,’ sort of ‘Jersey Shore,’ lots of young females,” said Smith. At the same time, he said the show was getting larger and larger online audiences, which didn’t go unnoticed. “People started coming after us and saying, ‘hey, we saw your show we think it would be better like this, longer format, more newsy, and we could do it here.’”
Enter HBO and Bill Maher. In addition to exec producing, the “Real Time” host is helping with story input. He may also contribute a time slot. “The rough plan is to take his slot when he’s not on air,” said Smith. “That’s when he takes his vacation, so we have to plan it carefully. We want to work with him as much as we can.”