Thursday, September 30, 2021


I've known for a little while now that I wanted to write about Vice. Or ViceTV? Or Viceland or Vice on TV...-? it's- see this is part of the problem, but I wasn't exactly sure how to write about Vice. This might come to a surprise to some, who see how up-to-date and modern I am with the current trends of patterns involved in global social media outreach; he says on his blog, in 2021, but Vice is something that, I've only kinda gathered at from the periphery until now. Frankly, like a lot of these companies in news and documentary media, Salon, MotherJones, Axios, Vox, Cheddar, these weird sites and with bizarre names that, frankly I can't always tell whether or not they're an actually news site or not. I've gotten in trouble with that before too btw, so yeah, it's something I'm trying to stop worrying about but, yeah, these new media brands with dumb names that I can't figure where they got these names.... Some of these have to start sounding more realistic and better soon....

Anyway, my point is that, I don't know what Vice is, per se, but since I first started noticing their content, when HBO would air their news magazine broadcasts about eight years or so ago, they've seemed like an interesting group. They have exploded across the media landscape in recent years, and it's kinda bizarre how big their reach actually goes and where it's currently, but, this whole brand is weird, and their history, if this Intelligencer article below is accurate, it feels like this thing was built on a house of cards that kinda just accidentally got run by people who cared about their work.

There's a lot of weird here, and I'm not gonna regurgitate all of it, but basically Vice originally started as a punk rock magazine in Montreal in the early '90s, and not like a cool Riotgrrl punk fanzine, like, a much more sardonic and macho kind of underground punk magazine. To give you an idea on where they came from, one of its earliest main editors was Gavin McInnes, who currently is infamous as one of the elders and founding members of The Proud Boys!!! Yes, those Proud Boys, the domestic terroristic far right extremists who were most responsible for the January 6th Insurrection. Yeah, he seems like the guy who thought he was creating punk's version of National Lampoon, and couldn't handle the facts that it was past times when either Punk or National Lampoon were remotely relevant anymore, especially to the modern youth audiences they've claimed they've been representing for at least three letter generations so far.  Now, he hasn't been associated with Vice for awhile now, and they've basically disavowed and scrubbed away all the past influence he's had from this "New Vice", whatever this New Vice is. (Although it'd be unfair to say that some of his audience isn't still with the brand; apparently one of the reasons their reporting is so strong is that they're beloved among cops who grants them inside access more often then not. Take that for the double-edged sword of what you will....)

Anyway, the main voice of Vice for most of it's run, and generally the guy behind Vice is Shane Smith, and for our purposes, he's the one who's apparently the inspiration behind Vice becoming a television presence, and so far, I've been enjoying Vice, in its numerous television forms. They're definitely different and have a particular look and approach to journalism, not just in the subjects they cover but also in the ways they cover them. And Smith, is apparently an enigmatic, charismatic and controversial figure in his own right, but who's managed to get big names to come aboard their brand over the years. Spike Jonze, yes that Spike Jonze, (Man, he's had a weird career even for an iconoclast) is their creative director and is one that influenced their unique look for their documentary series. The reason why Bill Maher is finally an Emmy winner is because he was a producer on their HBO magazine news show. HBO was one of their several pairings over the years. They've had other big names too over the years; one of their first big shows that caused a stir was a travel series helmed by Elliot Page, "Gaycation with Ellen Page", that got the channel one of their first Emmy nominations. (Did I say that right, btw, Elliot Page, as to the person but Ellen Page, 'cause that was the name of the show at the time? Or do I have to change the show title too now? I'm still trying to learn this one and I don't entirely get it, but okay....) 

Anyway, they took over what used to be H2, which was a failed History Channel spinoff network, so that makes them they're apart of the A&E subset of channels, which, believe it or not, is actually currently owned partly by Disney and partly by the Hearst corporation, although I don't think you're gonna see any of these shows on Disney+ anytime soon..., but these series of channels are nowadays mostly known for documentary and reality series, and that fits right in for them theoretically. 

That said, I don't think they understand at all, who their overall audience is, Smith has claimed that he's going to turn Vice into what MTV was for the youth, and get them back to watching television, which, is,...- well, let me put it this way, I'm more within their actual demographics and I've never literally sat down and watched their channel. I'm not going out of my way to watch old "Intervention" reruns on cable, sorry. Every time I've watched Vice on TV, it's from streaming their shows. 

Which, is good. For better or worst, their brand is documentary, but they still think they're a radical edgy brand that gets the young kids demographics, they're not, but what they do get are an expanding, older, middle age demographics, that likes what they produce. So, I like much of what they produce. Which is why I came into this piece concerned about the shows they were producing. 

It is weird that I'm doing a channel breakdown for a channel that I've only seen by streaming so far, and not actually sat down and watched. And for a channel, so  young, it's only like seven or so years old at the most. And it's not had much success. I've liked the shows I've watched, but it's mostly fallen well-short of their goals, and even by a more reasonable standard of what to expect from them as a successful channel, eh, for the most they're not doing anything particular special.

At least, they weren't until recently. They got one really big hit series right now, called "Dark Side of the Ring". 

So, "Dark Side of the Ring" is a documentary series created by Evan Husney and Jacob Eisener. Husney, he's directed a little, mostly has been a producer of documentaries for awhile, this is his big project it seems that he's helped being a creator and writer in it seems. Jacob Eisener, a little more successful, has made some more mainstream fare, most notably, he directed the short fake trailer and eventual actual film of "Hobo with a Shotgun". Remember it was a fake trailer that won a contest to appear along with those other fake trailers in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's experimental double feature, "Grindhouse" in international releases? (It was either a trailer for "Grindhouse" or it might have been apart of a trailer for "Machete," I can't remember which now exactly.) He's directed a few other shorts as apart of some compilation films, and he's got some other projects in the works, but this is his first foray into straight up documentary filmmaking. These are two talented filmmakers and they pitched this profile documentary series, that's mostly interviews and footage, but also uses some very Errol Morris effects in creating some reenactments as they tell 45 minute versions of some of the true stories of some of the more infamous tales, incidents and of people involved in the world of professional wrestling. 

Now, I'm a wrestling fan, I've talked about that occasionally, and pretty much like every wrestling fan I know nowadays, I've been watching "Dark Side of the Ring" currently in the middle of its third season religiously since it came on, and I'm watching it way more then we actually pro wrestling anymore I might add. 

(Sidenote: See, this is the kind of project I mean when I say that they don't get what their demographics are; pro wrestling is a little more relevant now, then say a few years ago, but it's not exactly something that the kids watch these days and it hasn't been at the peak of pop culture for like, twenty years or so. So yeah, for me, this is right in my wheelhouse, a mid-thirties guy who lived through the Monday Night Wars and used to scour the wrestling websites for inside knowledge on what was gonna happen and why something happened the way(s) it did/didn't on the last Monday Night Raw before Summerslam, or whatever was going on back then.) 

Anyway, it wasn't a particularly unusual project for Vice, they've done exposes on wrestling before, particularly some short subjects on deathmatch wrestling, but this was done by some talented filmmakers outside the Vice bubble, but it also get the promotion it needed within the wrestling fan community as well as got the respect of a lot of the names in and around the wrestling business that gave them the cache of respectability, and it's a really good show. It's actually earned a lot of critical acclaim and has quite a substantial viewership outside of professional wrestling. I recommend it highly, and a lot of people did and it's becomes the channel's first really big hit show. It's in the middle of season three right now and I'm looking forward to a lot of their newer episodes coming up. 

That said, let's put ourselves in the mind of Vice for a minute or so. You've been on the fringes with your channel for awhile, you specialize mostly in documentary programs, you're got a small fanbase but now it's exploding, not necessarily in the audience you were expecting but you've got a legit huge hit show on your hands for the first time. 


I can think of other networks that this has happened to over the years, and some of them have fallen into the same trap as Vice lately. Just like "Behind the Music 2", "Storage Wars: Texas", "Cajun Pawn Stars" and "The Real Housewives of..." whatever city they're in now, Vice decided to milk "The Dark Side..." for everything it's worth, and created a spinoff documentary series, "The Dark Side of Football".

Now, I haven't watched an episode of this. I am a huge football fan, but I got through, like five minutes of this show and turned it off. It's not done by Husney & Eisener; they have nothing to do with this show at all, basically Vice got some other documentary filmmakers and they had them basically replicate their similar approach to the material, expect with football instead of wrestling. It might be entertaining outside of that context but I couldn't really care. There's a lot of sports documentaries out there most of them are better then this.... I mean, there are dark stories that have happened in, around and related to American football, and I might try one or two of these again later, but it's pretty clear just how much they're filing off the serial numbers of their own program in order to just create extra material to fill in the spaces between when they're airing this. 

That said, I didn't entirely complain, 'cause, yeah, I've seen this before, all the time. You don't think documentary series have spinoffs, but they do, even great ones. Which came "American Experience" or "American Masters"? They've both been apart of PBS for thirty+ years now, it doesn't really matter. And even if they're not connected, like they're the same network, they produce and air documentaries, they both have "American" in the title, one obviously influenced the other. And it's a compelling title, "Dark Side of..." and you know what, football, wrestling, it's sports related. It's an obvious cash grab ripoff, but you could do worst. I got the move, especially for a channel that's a bit limited in their programming and has to rerun reality episodes of "Shipping Wars" to kill time during the day, then yeah, okay, I get one attempt at a spinoff, to see if it capture, even half the audience. And football's more popular then wrestling, so it's a good choice. 

Then I saw on their Youtube channel, Vice uploaded an episode of..., "Dark Side of the '90s"

Okay, well, first of all, just, fuck you now, Vice.

Like, okay, I'm not saying don't do a show about the nineties because I lived through this shit. Like, yes, I know about the talk shows and how it got out of hand, and the Jenny Jones incident, which-, btw, you guys really could've gone deeper into her show, which really changed quite a bit from it's tamer beginning to it's very absurd end...- This is the only episode I've watched, looking at the episode listings, I don't know exactly how much more I would learn much from, but that's not the point.... 

Vice, if you want to do a show about the 1990s, go right ahead. You're not the only one, CNN's been doing documentaries profiling decades, for like, forever now. You want to become more like E! or REELZ or something, then you know go right ahead, do these expose on famous pop culture incidents of the past, but don't bullshit me! Yeah, sure, there's a "Dark Side of Beanie Babies"- Oh, FUCK OFF!!!

Like, at least with "The Ring" or "Football"- (which, btw, shouldn't that show be called "The Dark Side of The Gridiron"? Wouldn't that be better?) you're narrowing your focus. The '90s is not a sport, but it's also just,- anything! You can put anything that happened in that decade. Are we gonna have a whole "Dark Side of The O.J. Simpson Trial" episode? Or "Dark Side of Tickle-Me-Elmo" or "The Dark Side of Lilith Fair"? "Dark Side of That One Time Drew Barrymore flashed David Letterman?" "The Dark Side of the "Empty Nest"/"Golden Girls"/"Nurses" Hurricane Crossover Episodes?" "Dark Side of MTV Spring Break"? "The Dark Side of The Disney Afternoon", "Dark Side of Girls Gone Wild", "Dark Side of the Breakup of the Soviet Union?- WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!

Like, just, you wanna just do a nineties show, just do a show on the nineties!? Don't be bullshitting us and bringing "The Dark Side" into it. I don't need Pogs to have a Dark Side in the future, Pogs were stupid and horrible enough at the time. Call it, "I Love the '90s: True Hollywood Stories" or whatever, just don't do this. This so wreaks of desperation, moreso then like anything I've ever seen from any of these other channels and any of their failed or even their successful half-ass/spinoffs attempts. This is dumb and pointless it's almost laughable if there weren't actually a few real tragic stories within these, but labeling this as a "Dark Side..." is such... it's literally the worst example of both an ouroboros eating it's own tail, while also piggybacking on top of itself, I've ever seen. 

Like, yeah, you look at it weird, then any fucking decades has a dark side; I don't even get the premise here. Are the nineties some mysterious time to everybody now in hindsight, or is it just nostalgia, 'cause I can tell you, I live through the nineties, and, like it any other decade, it was okay. There was good and bad stuff going on. It's probably a little better then some other decades before and since, but you know, anything that's really bad about the decade, in general, I think we've had those stories told about them. Perhaps we've had those stories told a little too much in recent years, in fact. 

"The Dark Side of eh, the Oklahoma City Bombing"...?- (Shrugs) 

I can't make...- See, the appeal of Wrestling and Football is partly that they're both sports that for some people are outside the grasp of much of the general public and these are introduction to the insular world of the people who do live within them, unlike the 1990s, which is just, something that everybody's been through! Okay, not everybody, but like, enough where it's not a foreign idea to people and it shouldn't be treated as such. 

I don't know where or how this idea in Vice's creative offices devolved and turned into to "Dark Side of the '90s", but a little advice to, well, Vice, stay out of The Dark Side. Like, there's programming and compelling stories here, and I know it's your first really big thing as a cable channel that you thought was gonna be bigger then it actually was but don't just hang your hat on this. You can tell these stories, you can make them compelling television, but don't,- don't just stick to this one thing that's big and beat everything out of it.

I get why you would do this but, there's gotta be other ways. Most of the other channels would have much more programming available so that when you'd catch that one show, you might stick around for some other programming, and Vice has done that a bit. I mean, I do like most of their programming, or at least get why somebody would be compelled to watch them, or watch them if they run into it one day. That said, partly in their defense, other channels that would do this, all started before streaming was a major thing. Right now, you're lucky if you're a channel that has one "Dark Side of the Ring". I mean, look at AMC for instance; they're last cash cow, "The Walking Dead" is in its final season and despite airing such great groundbreaking series as "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men", they're not a topic of conversation anymore. What's their big program, "Killing Eve" which isn't even fully theirs and I'm probably the only one who is still following that show? At this rate, they're gonna have to go back to being a movie channel if this doesn't improve. 

Vice is quickly turning into just another A&E, at this rate, only less interesting 'cause A&E is occasionally more fun and light-hearted and doesn't have the stench of taking "The Dark Side" of every single subject they cover. (Although, maybe "The Dark Side of Storage Auctions" might be interesting though... No, it wouldn't.) That's the "At best" situation, I might add. I actually predict that Vice won't be around longer then a decade or so from now. Something's gonna change hands, business-wise, and the channel's gonna get caught in the middle and with Disney and Hearst at the top and Vice having connections to both HBO and Fox News and whoever else in the future they'll try to piggyback on, eventually it'll basically turn back into just a brand for their documentary news division again, but it'll be shut out because something like Axios or Vox is gonna be bigger and more important and relevant then them and the channel will just become, like A&E 2 or something, were they show just the more high-profile darker content. Like, that'll be where reruns of "Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath" will be replayed while A&E just shows more "Storage Wars"  spinoffs. 

Or somebody else will take over the channel or something and turn it into some other morphed form of whatever they thought a Vice channel would be. Probably a reality show channel that only shows bad "Bar Rescue" and "Pawn Stars" wannabes. It's so bizarre how they got this hit, you know? Vice is an also ran that has gotten an accidental hit and kinda just doesn't know where to go from there. I don't know if it can be much else, but it's attempts to be more and what that'll end up looking like are gonna be an interesting test case for the future of modern cable television. I suspect it's ultimately not gonna succeed, but I could be wrong. I don't think that means a new channel on cable couldn't succeed in some form, but it's gonna need a lot more backing, a lot more of a wider audience appeal, and much more self-aware people behind the channel of what they're trying to accomplish, and those who understand how to adapt and grow a cable channel in a streaming world successfully. Perhaps it will be somebody who previously had experience and success from a streaming brand and move into television, but either way, it's gonna be difficult. My initial instinct was always that Vice wasn't a big enough brand to start up a channel of its own, and usually I think it's a weird and sketchy idea for any brand that isn't originally a television brand to then suddenly move into television, of any kind. Like, I don't know why I have a Red Bull streaming channel on my Roku, but I don't delete it 'cause it has actual shows..., I have no idea who watches them, but they're there and they're more successful then say, the now-defunct NRA Channel..., but arguably, while Vice haven't come close to meeting the goals they set for themselves, they have succeeded more then they probably should've so far, and potentially, they could advance farther. We'll see if that happens....

In the meantime, Vice, I know you're trying to capitalize on the hit you have, but try to stay out of the Dark Side for a little while. It's a not good look for you to keep redoing that trick to lesser and lesser results. You don't be the depressing dark channel; it'll hurt some of your more cool positive programming in the long run, and who wants to ruin "Slutever" like that? You're lucky you got this far; maybe cheer up a little more, you know...? 

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