PASADENA, Calif. — Launched less than a year ago, Viceland is still the new kid on the block. Even those of us in the press corps who have relatives working at Vice Canada (full disclosure: me), aren’t quite sure what it is yet, other than the channel millennials watch when they do watch something as quaint as television.
The brand is not yet making much overnight ratings noise in North America but this is a borderless TV world, granddad. There are plans to launch Viceland in over 50 territories worldwide by the end of 2017 across mobile and digital platforms.
One area where they appear to be gaining actual TV traction is in late night with Desus & Mero. The show airs on both Viceland US and Viceland Canada Mondays to Thursdays at 11 p.m. ET/PT.
The late night talk show is hosted by Bronx-based high school friends Desus Nice and Kid Mero. Maybe it’s the low production values, but there’s something a little Bob & Doug MacKenzie about the pair. They wear snapback caps instead of toques, T-shirts instead of parkas and favour weed over beer, but their show is a little bit The Great Black South Bronx version of The Great White North.
They picked up fans through their “Bodega Boys” podcast, a Top 50 hit on the iTunes comedy chart. The Bronx buddies sound off on issues of the day, sometimes seated on lawn chairs. “It’s the youngest, most diverse late night show on television,” claims Viceland General Manager Guy Slattery.
They do things a little differently. They call president elect Trump, for example, “President Cheeto.”
“Every day we try to come up with a new name for him,” says Desus. “Human Dorito Dust,” offers Mero. “The tangerine in chief,” says Desus.
Asked what topics they won’t touch, Mero says, “Boring shit.
“We are not your Fallons and your Kimmels that can’t say certain things because of a fear of, like, ‘Oh, this is too,’ ‘I’m not going to touch that.’ We are just, like, balls to the wall. Like, if we think it, we are going to say it.”
And say it fast, in their own, unique Bronx street slang. Their shout out to Viceland, for example, is that “They let us cook.”
The lads talk so fast and their lingo is so unique four court reporters transcribing the TCA session had to be carried away on stretchers. Kidding. Not really.
Mero was asked if he watched Samantha Bee or The Daily Show and if he had “agitator TV heroes.” His answer might be applied to many of his own show’s core viewers: “I’ve actually got to call my wife because I haven’t been able to find the remote for, like, a week, and my TV is still on Xbox mode, and I can’t get it off.”
Viceland president Spike Jonze called what Desus and Mero do on TV, “verbal graffiti.”
It even took Jonze a while to “get” the pair, according to Desus. There was talk of explaining things on the show for other viewers who didn’t get the references, but executive producer Erik Rydholm shot that down.
“No, absolutely not,” was Rydholm’s decree, according to Desus. “We are not going to explain anything. There’s not going to be disclaimers. There’s not going to be a glossary. There’s not going to be a Rap Genius page with hyperlinks where you can look up locations. If you want to understand this, you are going to have to put some work in. And that’s the thing about this show. It’s not passive entertainment. You can’t just sit there, like, “Oh, whatever.” You have to put some work into it. You have to reference it to get the jokes, to know what you are talking about.”
Or, as Mero says, “There’s going to be you and that weed and Siri. Figure it out.”
Asked if they thought social media has changed late night as a whole, Desus gave a very interesting answer:
I think social media has changed late night in a bad way in a way talk shows now are chasing a viral clip, and you have instead of concentrating on making a good show overall, they have 40 seconds of Michelle Obama doing karaoke in the car. It’s like, yo, that’s it for the week. Like, promote the hell out of this. Who even cares what the hell is going on with the rest of the show. And then as a social media user, you are, like, “Should I get up at 11:30 to watch the show? Should I even go through the trouble of going on Hulu and clicking on a link when it just flooded on my timeline on Twitter?” I didn’t have to actually go watch anything.