Imagine being the HBO executive who hears this from one of the channel's producing partners: "We think there's an opportunity for us to get into North Korea."
The executive was Michael Lombardo, and the partner was Vice Media, the Brooklyn media company with something of a daredevil streak. The conversation happened about a month ago, when production was well under way on "Vice," a newsmagazine that will have its premiere on HBO on April 5.
The company's bosses said they were planning a visit to the secretive country, centered on an exhibition basketball game with the flamboyant former N.B.A. star Dennis Rodman and three members of the Harlem Globetrotters. HBO decided to add what Mr. Lombardo said was "a little bit" of extra financing, beyond what it had already agreed to pay for the newsmagazine.
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"It felt like something that could be interesting for the show," Mr. Lombardo, HBO's president for programming, said last Friday as he recalled the meeting.
By Friday, the trip wasn't just "interesting," it was international news. Kim Jong-un showed up for the exhibition game in Pyongyang the day before, making Mr. Rodman and Vice's film crew the first Americans known to have met the North Korean ruler since he inherited power from his father in 2011.
On television and online, people were debating which group was benefiting more from the publicity, Vice or the North Korean leadership. At the State Department, reporters wanted to know why the United States government wasn't visibly doing more to debrief Mr. Rodman about his interactions with Mr. Kim, the dictator whom he pronounced his "friend."
The Vice crew remains in North Korea; several more days of filming are scheduled. But Mr. Rodman returned home over the weekend, and in his first interview — on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday — he said Mr. Kim was "a great guy" and said "he wants Obama to do one thing, call him" — which generated even more news headlines.
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To say this was all part of Vice's master plan would overstate the matter. The producers and reporters had no assurances that Mr. Kim would attend the game. But when they arranged the trip to North Korea, a rarity in and of itself, they thought like diplomats. To get what they wanted, they considered what they could give — and they came up with Mr. Rodman and the Globetrotters. "We knew he'd be tempted by basketball," said a Vice spokesman, referring to Mr. Kim.
The Kim dynasty's love for the sport, and for the Chicago Bulls in particular, was evident on the Vice co-founder Shane Smith's two previous trips to the country. In a telephone interview, Mr. Smith recalled that when the Bulls would come up in conversation with North Korean handlers, "their eyes would light up." The handlers made sure to show him the basketball signed by Michael Jordan and given to Kim Jong-il by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000, now on display at a museum in Pyongyang.