Vice Plans Nightly News Show for Generation That Has Already Seen Daily Headlines

Vice Media
Courtesy of Vice Media

Some people looking to launch a new evening newscast might look to the usual suspects, like “CBS Evening News” or CNN. Josh Tyrangiel says he looked more closely at “Sesame Street” and “Saturday Night Live.”

Both of those programs, he explained, are built of individual programming modules, each one designed to serve the needs of the content it delivers to viewers. If “Sesame Street” wants to teach a lesson about the number two, he said, it might use an animated short, but to discuss a question of ethics or emotional development, it might tap the conversational back-and-forth of Bert and Ernie. Likewise, “SNL” is apt to use a live sketch to poke fun at a political candidate, but will serve up one of its taped “digital shorts” to entertain in a different manner.

Tyrangiel has reason to tailor each programming element and avoid the usual broadcast-news trappings that handed down from Walter Cronkite to Lester Holt. He is Vice Media’s executive vice president of content and his charge is to launch a new five-nights-a-week newscast on HBO that will engages a generation of news aficionados who are accustomed to lapping up the latest headlines as soon as breaking news surfaces on Twitter, or diving deep into a Reddit exchange to pluck out some knowledge.  The new program, “Vice News Tonight,” will in half-hour bursts serve up anything form the immersive field reports for which Vice has become so well known, along with video essays that use animation to make a point, or even interactive technology that will allow people watching the new program on smartphones, mobile tablets or touch-enabled desktops to stop the video and examine documents used in its reporting.

“The assignment here is to make a modern, flexible news show,” Tyrangiel said during a briefing at Vice’s headquarters in Brooklyn, NY, on Tuesday. The half-hour show is expected to air each weeknight on HBO at 7:30 p.m. eastern, and will be made available on the Time Warner cable service’s HBO Go and HBO Now streaming services.

The program is the latest in a series of ambitious efforts from Vice, which has captured the fancy of the media industry – along with investments from Walt Disney, 21st Century Fox and Hearst –  with newsy content that has proven appealing to millennial consumers.  The company already produces hundreds of hours of video for its web site, the Viceland TV cable network it owns with A&E Networks and the weekly newsmagazine is already produces for HBO. Now it wants to revive a format that, while still popular, is viewed as a format for a generation accustomed to getting home from work in the early evening and not having news dispatches hiccup and burble at them all day long through a different kind of screen. And Vice wants to do this knowing full well it must serve up something fresh and engaging every night on HBO to a crowd that is likely to have digested the bulk of the cycle’s main news stories.

“The show is going to evolve, a lot. We know that,” said Tyrangiel.  Vice’s audience’s “expectations of their media has been raised.”

The report has so many different elements to it that Vice and HBO have agreed to postpone the start date of “Vice News Tonight,” the executive said, which had originally been scheduled for September 26 – coincidentally, now the date of the first debate scheduled between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Now, “Vice News” is expected to launch October 10, said Tyrangiel. Executives were eager to make certain the new interactive technology worked seamlessly and that Vice could “stack” its various reports together properly for HBO. “This is a massive undertaking. We want it to be seamless,” he said.

A sample newscast screened Tuesday included a broad array of interesting stuff. In one story, a Vice correspondent hunkered down with soldiers in Iraq while bullets whizzed over him. “Rounds are cracking overhead,” the reporter wheezes between heavy breaths. “It’s going to be a bad scramble to get out. In another dispatch, Vice correspondent Joshusa Hersh visits with the mayor of Rutland, VT, who wants to open the town to Muslim refugees. In one shot, a town resident yells at the official from across the street and tells him the first “rape” to result from such a move is “on you.” Another segment featured an animated look at the history of the emoji. Tyrangiel also suggested Vice wanted to score big newsmaker interviews. “We are not always going to be someone’s first choice,” he acknowledged. “We have to earn our stripes.”

The Vice newscast avoids the format’s typical trappings. There is no anchor, just an unseen narrator – one that could change, Tyrangiel said, depending on the mood or tone Vice seeks each day. The correspondents are not camera-ready. Many are dressed simply in T-shirts, jeans and glasses. If they are made up for camera, it’s not immediately obvious.

What was not presented was breaking news. Tyrangiel kept information about how Vice might cover the elections close to the vest, refusing to say whether or not Vice News had made outreach to Clinton or Trump for interviews. The executive said the company intended to work hard to get noticed for its reporting, potentially releasing a sneak peek at coming report each day online to generate anticipation, and even suggested Vice would consider breaking into HBO’s regularly scheduled programming if it was sitting on hot news that could not wait for the evening.

But he also indicated Vice wants to keep away from a rote read-back of the day’s happenings. Vice correspondents, he said, weren’t going to do reports on the latest stock movement or stand outside 10 Downing Street and muse on what happened in British government earlier in the day. He doesn’t want Vice to add to a great volume of noise surrounding the election cycle by enlisting additional proxies for Trump and Clinton as talking heads. Instead, Vice will focus on looking at how different countries are adopting to modernity; the world’s shifting climate; technology; and cultural phenomena around the world, among other topics.

“Vice News Tonight” won’t be constrained by anchors or ad breaks, Tyrangiel said, and he hopes the subject mix, on-the-ground reporting and surprise scoops will be enough to get viewers to sample and even stay. “We know we’ve got to fight” in a crowded media landscape, he said, but “I do think better stuff is finding its way” to audiences sick of thinly reported dispatches and search-traffic clickbait. “We are trying to build a long-term relationship” with a different audience, he added, “and tell them how the world works.”