Steven Weinstock, president and founder of True Entertainment (Syfy’s Town of the Living Dead, Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta) has teamed up with Condé Nast Entertainment and Investigation Discovery (ID) to produce the 12 x 60-minute series Vanity Fair Confidential.
The program takes several journalistic mysteries that have appeared in the pages of Vanity Fair magazine and delves deeper into the story, providing insight with author interviews and first person accounts from those involved in the stories.
Weinstock – also one of the show’s executive producers – spoke with realscreen about Vanity Fair Confidential and provided an exclusive clip from the series, which premieres on ID on Monday (January 19) at 9 p.m. EST.
What prompted the idea for Vanity Fair Confidential?
Michael Klein, who was then the TV guy for Condé Nast, approached us and said they’d like to do something with Vanity Fair. They’re involved with trying to do a lot of things with different aspects of the Condé Nast publishing empire, and transfering those properties, in some instances, to television. So we developed an idea that looked really at what Vanity Fair does with incredible precision, namely great mysteries.
Mysteries, whether they be murder mysteries, scandal, mysteries of people who have fallen from grace and power, and we came up with this concept of Vanity Fair Confidential. We made an illustrative sizzle reel and went out and pitched that with Condé Nast Entertainment.
What were some of the subjects you tackle for the first 12-episode season?
The first show premiering this Monday at 9 p.m. is called “Runaway Doctor,” based on an article written by Buzz Bissinger. It is really the story of Mark Weinberger who was this well-known nasal surgeon who had made a fortune, then suddenly disappeared. As it turns out, he was involved in a lot of procedures that were deemed unnecessary.
And this was his young wife who he was on vacation with in Greece. She woke up in the morning and he was gone. And he never reappeared. Just left her, flat. So it’s a great, twisted tale that Buzz Bissinger goes on, trying to figure out the shocking secrets of this man. We tell the story and it’s completely riveting.
How much do you have to flesh out of the original articles?
There’s a tremendous amount of reporting that Vanity Fair writers do or have done, so we have the articles as a kind of road map. We sit down and extensively interview the writers, and they become the narrative bridge throughout the hour, and for each individual story.
So we’re fortunate in that we have the writers who have spent the time, logged endless hours researching and writing these stories. Then we try to do as many interviews with the main characters of the story.
Is there dramatization involved?
Not at all, which is kind of unusual. We have found a way, by taking some of the DNA of the magazine – the magazine is great, non-fiction narrative writing – so we use the writers and we use photography, which is something is another kind of important aspect of what Vanity Fair does so well.
We do a lot of portraiture and stock footage – and we add narration.It’s a throwback – we narrate these. But we do not use any recreations. And they are really compelling in a great heart-thumping, edge-of-your-seat stories.
Were there any difficulties with any stories? Some that you wanted to tell that you couldn’t?
Well, yeah. There was a very big swath of stories, and going between Vanity Fair and going between ID we’d narrow it down, but certainly there was a spike factor, because either the participants did not want to be interviewed again or they weren’t alive in some instances, or the stories had been covered heavily by other outlets as well as ID, and we made the decision that they weren’t appropriate.
What made ID the right home for Vanity Fair Confidential?
It’s interesting: When we pitched this idea, a number of networks were interested. And when we went to pitch it to Henry Schleiff, the head of ID, he – as only Henry can – pitched back to me a four-page statistic and demography outline on how there’s tremendous synchronicity between those audiences – upscale, affluent, prominently female – and he kind of did this overlay and there was this incredible alignment between the aspirational audience that ID is looking for, and the audience that Vanity Fair for so many years has had, so it seemed like a really great fit.