Viceland, the great attempt to make millennials care about cable, is producing a nightly prime-time two-hour live show. The program is called Vice Live, and I have absolutely no idea who it is for.
Vice Live, according to Variety, “will serve as a showcase of sorts for all things Vice.” Except for anything related to Vice News, Vice’s popular news outlet already produces a daily and weekly show for HBO. Because of that existing deal, no Vice News talent will appear on the Vice Live and—again quoting from Variety—“while Vice Live may touch on the headlines of the day, it will be about how the culture is responding to it.”
Instead, the show is aiming to cover the pop culture news of the day with cameos by hosts from different Viceland shows. The show will be hosted by a group that Variety charitably describes as “up-and-comers”: Marie Faustin, Sandy Honig, Zack Fox, and Fat Tony. I have not heard of these people, but maybe it’s because I don’t watch Viceland very often. Except therein lies the problem.
Lacking the prestige news content, Vice Live seemingly is banking on that elusive Vice Coolness that we spent so many years hearing about when Vice was exploding. But the age of Spike Jonze vamping about Where The Wild Things Are while Shane Smith slurs through war-torn Afghanistan are long over; the kids don’t think Vice is all that cool anymore, and nothing exemplifies that better than Viceland’s failure to generate ratings.
Creating a personality-driven live show makes sense when your channel is doing well, but who is going to tune into to see what the hosts of Kentucky Ayahuasca think about the latest season of The Bachelor?
It’s worth noting the stakes are high for Vice Live: its the first content initiative for new CEO Nancy Dubuc, who took over from Original Cocaine Boy Shane Smith after a withering stretch of stalled growth and accusations of a culture of sexual harassment at the company. Vice’s financial situation seems suddenly purcurious. Years of endless growth have led to a best in-class news division, but dismal web traffic and missed revenue projections. It appears likely that Dubuc’s time at Vice will be defined by cutbacks and strategic retreats, with Vice Live standing as an exception and possibly a vision of what to do with the unsuccessful cable network it will premiere on.
What stands out to me is how good of an idea this sounds on paper and how little I expect this idea to succeed in reality. In other words, maybe Vice Live is what you’d expect when an established cable executive takes over a brand that no executive has really understood beyond some nebulous and conning notion of “popular cool.”