On the final episode of their first television show, two of America’s most illustrious late night talk show hosts gave a triumphant departure speech to a crowd of gathered Viceland employees. Desus Nice and The Kid Mero, hosts of the channel’s Desus & Mero, stood on a table holding half-full wine glasses and thanked the channel for all it had done for them. “No other network would have the balls to even attempt to do a show like this,” Desus said into the mic. For the past 20 months, the two had brought a brand of unfettered joy, playfulness, and unabashed shit-talking to Vice Media’s television programming arm. Their show bringing a legion of viewers, television’s youngest and most diverse according to The New York Times, to Viceland who otherwise would have been uninterested in their offerings, and in the process became bona fide celebrities.
After their filmed, off-stage speech, the finale episode continued on the show’s memorable set, stuffed, Timbs-wearing bear ever-present. With the host’s friends, including radio show host Charlamagne Tha God, gathered in the wings, they spent their final 20 minutes on Viceland recounting the show’s past memorable moments and interviews. “We’re moving on to greener pastures,” Mero said, barely a hint of wistfulness in his voice.
For the end of a popular, groundbreaking show, the moods both onscreen and online in the days surrounding it were remarkably jubilant. News of their move to Showtime was met with celebration, any sadness reserved for the understanding that their new show will likely be once a week instead of four. “Yay!! Just heard! So well deserved!” tweeted actor Rosie Perez, a guest on their show in 2017. “Get that bag fellas” tweeted artist and producer Alex Medina, a widely shared sentiment on Twitter the day of the announcement of their move. Another popular tweet that day: that after their departure some will have no reason to watch Viceland anymore.
“Shoutout to Viceland for taking a chance on two humble individuals from the Bronx. Y’all were wildin’. Paid off for you.”
By virtue of being a late night talk show, Desus & Mero was immediately set apart from the rest of Viceland’s offerings. Unlike the channel’s other more documentary-style series, Desus & Mero was comparatively stripped down. All the action took place on one set, as the two remained seated in their chairs to discuss the day’s TV and Internet clips. There was a refreshing lack of gimmicks, the entire show’s appeal rooted in the personalities, perspectives, and wit of the men who, along with everything else, gave the show their names. More than the chance it took on their hosts, it’s remarkable that Viceland took a chance on such a format. Vice’s brand of sensationalism (apart from its straight-ahead online journalism and HBO show Vice News) was already well-established (and parodied in a 2015 episode of IFC’s Documentary Now!) by the time the company launched its channel in 2016. That legacy continued with Viceland shows bearing titles like Balls Deep, Bong Appétit, Party Legends, and Fuck That’s Delicious hosted by rapper Action Bronson, all featuring edgy, indulgent premises. Shows like these seemed to be in the spirit of the brand’s hard-partying, give-no-fucks façade, as embodied by its now-billionaire founder Shane Smith, who stepped down from CEO in March after media reports exposed the culture of sexual harassment and general dysfunction within the company.
Viceland after Desus and Mero leave pic.twitter.com/yVuMJlaRBu— BrilliantVillain (@IntergalacticQ) June 28, 2018
As a couple of Bronx natives just shooting the shit, Desus and Mero weren’t an obvious fit for Vice’s white hipster reputation. Desus may be right that only a network like Viceland would have been willing to give the two then largely-unknowns a shot at hosting their own free-wheeling show (a right they had to fight for according to Jazmine Hughes’s in-depth profile of them for New York Times Magazine), but their presence stood apart under the Vice Media umbrella. After Vice’s internal problems became public record, their incongruity on the channel only became that much more marked, as they regularly made sly but light hearted jokes on their show poking fun at Vice and Viceland’s distance from their brand. Desus and Mero may, at first, have been a slight programming risk for the fledgling channel, but they epitomized everything Vice brand has always grasped at: authenticity, self-assured irreverence, punk and hip-hop antiestablishmentarianism — and, of course, blackness, which has never been part of the company’s ethos but long in its sights.
On the air since 1976, Showtime is no less corporate or more authentic than Viceland, but Desus and Mero’s move there represents a triumph for both them and American television culture at large. Whereas Viceland is still very much a smaller player in the TV landscape, Showtime is a longtime programming giant. The hosts’ move there means that legacy networks are finally expanding the range of voices and perspectives they put their money and resources behind. This morning, I woke up and was sad to remember I wouldn’t be able to begin tomorrow with tonight’s new episode. That sadness was fleeting though as I remembered what’s to come next year.