The producers of the new HBO news series "Vice" admit that their journalistic approach shares some similarities with that of the soon-to-be-shuttered Current TV. In fact, they say, Current tried to buy their content before they got their own show.
The origins of "Vice" go back to Montreal in 1994, when Shane Smith founded Vice Magazine to look at sex, drugs, music and fashion with jaded, hipster snark. But as Vice expanded online, it began traveling the world, sending untraditional journalists into global hotspots to do sneakers-on-the-ground reports like Smith's journey into North Korea. With a small crew, he documented a country trying desperately to put on a proud face.
Current TV similarly sent young, sometimes inexperienced journalists into dangerous locales from marijuana fields to border towns. But the approach failed to find an audience, and the network was sold this week to Qatar-financed Al Jazeera for a reported $500 million. Al Jazeera plans to dismantle Current and run its own coverage.
"Vice" doesn't find Current's demise discouraging. The show hopes to succeed where Current failed because of the voice Smith has honed over nearly two decades.
"They didn't have a really strong idiosyncratic voice, and that's what you need," said "Vice" executive producer Eddy Moretti. "And that's why we feel at home at HBO, because everything we do has such a strong POV."
"Vice" will debut April 5 after "Real Time" with Bill Maher — who is one of the executive producers of "Vice." The new show will take Smith and other correspondents to extreme danger zones like the India-Pakistan border.
Smith told a panel at the Televisision Critics Association winter press tour Saturday that Current approached Vice about airing some of its content before Vice got its own show.
"They came to us and wanted content, and we said 'No, because… you have more money than us, you know, bigger distribution. You have TV. You have all this big sort of power behind you, but the one thing you don't have is content. So we're not going to give you our content, which is the only thing we have.'
A Current spokeswoman said no one at the network was available to comment.