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May 24, 2014

Vice

  • Shane Smith

    Shane Smith (center) of Vice on location

Executive Producers: Bill Maher, Shane Smith and Eddy Moretti

 

 

 

 


Just like the body craves fruits and vegetables, the brain longs for smart, compelling fare. 

And as fans of HBO’s documentary TV series Vice can attest, each episode edifies and excites as it provocatively informs viewers about what is really going on in the world.

While there are those critics who bemoan the gonzo journalism style the show subscribes to and immersive approach it celebrates, the reporters and producers on Vice just keep pushing to tell rarely told tales by any means necessary. 

Sometimes that means bullets whiz by the heads of reporters and crew members while on assignment – as proven during the season 2 installment on Kurdish nationalists in Syria – but such acts never feel staged or purposeless. 

Believe it or not, such life-threatening scenarios only intensify the subjects at hand. It’s one thing to tell the viewer that the battle for Northern Syria between the Kurds and Arab Islamist rebels is fraught with peril. But it’s quite another to see it unfold in your living room. 

Such a fearless and daring approach deserves accolades and makes Vice the perfect nominee for a Television Academy Honor. 

Sharp, intrepid and thorough journalism needs to be recognized and heralded in order for it to thrive and evolve — and a nod from the Honors nominations panel should hopefully go a long way toward this feat for this series. 

Sure, there are times when you have to wonder if there is any danger, topic or law the Vice crew won’t tackle or turn upside down. 

For instance, if correspondent David Choe tags along on an illegal scavenge for scrap, isn’t he aiding and abetting? But it’s clear that risky acts yield fascinating results and can be what it takes to get to the heart of global issues.

In Choe’s piece on scrapping thieves and the ever changing and ever profitable raw materials game, for example, he never took sides or cast judgment. 

He simply showed how all the pieces and players fit from the low-rung scrapping thieves nabbing copper and steel in cities such as Detroit and Cleveland to the Chinese businessmen who travel thousands of miles to obtain and pay dearly for the alloys they need.

Rampant political assassinations in the Philippines. Children trained as suicide bombers. An underground railroad that rescues North Korean women from sex slavery in China. The perilous nuclear stare-down in Kashmir. These are just some of the deep-digging ways in which Vice makes the most of its premium-cable home.

This isn’t TV — so goes tag — it’s HBO, right? So that means the producers (including Bill Maher with consulting assistance from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria) don’t have to do anything to dumb down the shows’ stories or pander to audiences. 

A prime example of this is the season 1 finale where Vice correspondent Ryan Duffy risked everything to visit North Korea for a basketball diplomacy mission/game between a few Harlem Globetrotters and a North Korean dream team. 

Absurd as it was riveting, the story explored every angle including former NBA champion Dennis Rodman’s oddball relationship with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un and the government chaperones that monitored the American TV production unit at all times. 

While such an approach is to be expected, the feature went further and even spotlighted ethos-rich interactions between the Globetrotters and everyday people in North Korea. 

The feature also helped to put Vice on the map as a burgeoning feature magazine series and led to a second season. HBO recently announced that it is committing to a third and fourth season as well. 

When asked what separates Vice from other documentary news shows of this nature, say such as 60 Minutes, founder Shane Smith didn’t mince words. 

“The problem is that we have 4 media companies that control the world, and they're all afraid of losing Ford as a client," Smith said at a TechCrunch conference in New York in early May 2014. 

"So they're all by definition huge companies that are going to be inherently conservative,” he continued, “and that again is fantastic for Vice, because we get to come up and eat their lunch.” 

Vice just wrapped its second season. season 3 kicks off in 2015.

Mekeisha Madden-Toby, Special to TelevisionAcademy.com 

Watch Vice on the HBO cable television network — check your local listings — as well as HBO On Demand and the HBOGO website and mobile app.

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