THE NETWORK Viceland
WHEN | WHERE Launches Monday, replacing H2 on Optimum Ch. 161, FiOS Ch. 127, DirecTV Ch. 271, Dish Ch. 121
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Beginning Monday, this new network will replace H2, the A&E-owned spinoff of the History Channel. Described as an informational channel with series on culture, food, sex, fashion, music and sports, Viceland’s series are packaged — or designed — by Oscar-winning director and Vice creative director Spike Jonze (director of films like “Being John Malkovich” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” and an Oscar winner for writing/best original screenplay for 2013’s “Her,” which he also directed). Series to roll out over the next few days (or weeks) will be hosted by Ellen Page, Ian Daniel, Michael Kenneth Williams and Hailey Gates; also regular Vice web hosts, including rapper (and former chef) Action Bronson, Thomas Morton and Eddie Huang, will host series.
In 2014, A&E purchased a $250 million stake in Vice Media, leading to Monday’s launch.
MY SAY Describing Vice, parent of Viceland, to someone who’s never heard of “Vice” is like describing that proverbial elephant to someone who could never conceive of such thing as an “elephant.” (Well, let’s see . . . big and powerful, but then there’s this thing called a trunk and . . . ) You get the idea, hopefully: Vice is complicated but hardly indescribable, while any attempt must begin with Vice head of state, Shane Smith, 46, one of the most influential figures in TV journalism. Smith essentially took over an old debt payment back in the ’90s — an underground Montreal weekly called the Voice — dropped the “i” from the title, and then proceeded to catch the planet’s biggest wave, the Internet.
Vice Media, based in a nondescript brick building in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, is now a massive content producer, with books, a magazine, music, a popular website and a suite of YouTube channels covering a wide variety of topics. News — or “immersive” news in the Smith vernacular — is the real calling card, or at least the prestigious one: The Emmy-winning HBO series “Vice” is terrific, while Vice News is also leading HBO’s charge into daily broadcast journalism.
This long introduction may be necessary for any few remaining H2 viewers who are about to undergo profound culture shock Monday morning. Viceland is not H2, or remotely like anything else on cable at the moment, although in spirit, Adult Swim possibly comes closest. Of the Vice brand, Smith once explained: “We always said half will hate what we do, the other half won’t. We just don’t want to be in-between.”
There will be no fence-sitters with Viceland’s shows (six made available for review), which hew closely to the established Vice brand — raw, occasionally vulgar, in your face or in your gut. There’s a wide range of tone and content here but shows share a DIY vibe and a vaguely anarchic one, too. They’re also lively and unpredictable: The Jonze imprint, alongside the Smith one, is unmistakable.
Some show titles aside (a few unprintable here), there’s a serious undertone. One show, “Weediquette,” sounds like a series for stoners — it sort of is — but is also a look at medical marijuana treatments. Another, “Noisey,” is a deep dive into the established and emerging rap world in Compton. Thomas Morton has a long visit in his series (one of those with an unprintable title) with a tent revival preacher in Arkansas, which is good-natured and informative. Page’s exploration of LGBT life in Tokyo on her show “Gaycation” is largely the same.
For everyone? Hardly, but rather for that cohort within the millennial cohort that grew up on hip-hop, “gender neutrality” and a longing to relocate to the hipper neighborhoods of Brooklyn — unless not already there.
And which also grew up on Vice.
The challenge for Viceland, however, is significant: This “cohort” doesn’t watch much TV, and, since the cradle, has been immersed in the Web where so much content like this is already available in bulk. In fact, most of these Viceland shows were posted on one of Vice’s YouTube channels weeks ago.
Why spend time with a TV network? What will make this one so distinct from everything else already on the Web? Will anarchic-leaning, web-savvy, TV-spurning, Brooklyn-adoring millennials even watch?
One of the most important TV network launches of the year should have answers shortly.