To produce the one-hour episodes, ID producers will comb through Vanity Fair’s archives for some of the storied Conde Nast magazine’s most in-depth investigations, and then bring them to television – all with the writer of the story on hand as a primary source. The first cycle will consist of 13 episodes, and ”we are already looking at a second season,” said Henry Schleiff, a Discovery group president who supervises the network, in an interview.
ID’s interest in the series is explained quite simply, said Schleiff: The network, which has been riding a ratings surge in recent years, wanted a show that would offer a complex mystery as well as a deeper look at the circumstances behind it.
“The art of investigative journalism is almost a dying art, if you will – practiced by an increasingly fewer number, and few have the ability or the resources to participate in smart, really in-depth journalism,” he said. “Our audience is a smart audience, and they have the ability to follow an increasingly complicated and complex set of facts.”
Among the Vanity Fair writers slated to appear in episodes are Bryan Burrough, perhaps best known for his seminal work “Barbarians at the Gate,” and investigative journalist Mark Seal.
TV networks have featured Vanity Fair specials in the past, but not an entire series derived from the magazine’s storytelling, said Dawn Ostroff, president of Conde Nast Entertainment, in an interview. Interest in the idea was intense, she said. The publisher had a “bidding war” going on among three different suitors. In the end, Scheliff and his team “felt like their network would really speak to the audience who are interested in these stories, and were looking for very high-end, quality ways to tell stories,” she said. Schleiff “was very aggressive about wanting to get this show on the air.”
Another relationship may have helped put the program on ID. Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and Discovery CEO David Zaslav are acquaintances, both Schleiff and Ostroff said, and their relationship provided a degree of comfort that the new show would have a good home at ID.
Conde Nast will retain foreign rights to distribute the program, Ostroff said, as well as ownership of the program.
The program will strike a different chord among true-crime aficionados, said Schleiff. “To have these stories told in the words and from the perspective of the actual journalist who spent months and maybe years pursuing a particular story – I think what we get there is something that is unique,” he said.