Variety Review on Vanity Fair Confidential

Date: Friday, January 16th, 2015

Investigation Discovery

 is immersed in the true-crime business, which requires a bit of searching for appropriately salacious material. Based on this premiere, the channel has found it in “Vanity Fair Confidential,” a series that draws upon the magazine’s reporting to create a slick TV product, assembled (happily enough) without the dramatic recreations that have become so common within the form. Mixing video and interviews, including extensive use of the story’s reporter, the result is a fast-moving yarn on the order of CBS’ “48 Hours,” with the requisite pacing, narration and music to elevate the sense of drama.

The opening case, “The Runaway Doctor,” from Vanity Fair contributing editor Buzz Bissinger, is certainly a whale of a tale, dealing with a successful doctor, Mark Weinberger, who mysteriously goes missing while on vacation with his wife, Michelle Kramer, on the Greek island of Mykonos.

“That’s the man Michelle thought she married,” the narration intones, before proceeding to detail Weinberger’s trail of lies, as well as Kramer’s globetrotting, detective-like efforts to track him down and discover what really happened and motivated his disappearance.

The high-profile stories featured in the dozen episodes are just the sort that would have once provided fodder for TV movies. With this approach, ID repackages them in a cheaper-to-produce form, and serves them up to viewers in half the time.

Indeed, while print operations have often struggled to engineer the transition into TV (witness the contortions and growing pains of the Esquire network), “Vanity Fair Confidential” represents the sort of narrow enterprise that’s a benefit to both parties. Publisher Conde Nast wrings additional value out of its longform journalism, and ID – a network that essentially peddles the same show over and over, albeit with different hosts and titles – classes up the joint, to the extent that Vanity Fair “brings a sophisticated and refined sensibility to even the most sensational of stories,” as network chief Henry Schleiff puts it.

So, a program that’s sensational, but with a patina of sophistication? If ID and Vanity Fair can keep that formula going, this is the kind of franchise that probably won’t stay confidential for long.

 

By Brian Lowry