If you’ve seen HBO’s “Vinyl,” executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Terence Winter (the show-runner of “Boardwalk Empire,” writer of “The Wolf Of Wall Street” and key “Sopranos” writer), you know that it can be… a mixed bag. While some reviews have been positive, others have not been so kind, especially by those that know a thing or two about the ‘70s music scene depicted on the show (watching Kurt Loder rip apart the show on Twitter in the last few weeks has been amusing). As our review of the premiere episode suggested, while encyclopedic, “Vinyl” has an unfortunate tendency to play like spot-the-cameo fan service for music geeks (not to mention that its sex, drugs and rock n’ roll cliches are myriad). Episode one was littered with “didja notice who that was, huh didja?” appearances —actors portrayed The New York Dolls, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Ruth Brown, Bo Diddley, and for deep cut trainspotters, the legendary and ruthless manager Peter Grant— references (Suicide, Neon Boys, Good Rats) and teasing musical moments (the show sort of implies that Bobby Cannavale’s character is the the first white person to have seen DJ Kool Herc spin).
Episode two had John Cameron Mitchell playing Andy Warhol and a musical cameo from the Velvet Underground, and last night’s episode, “Whispered Secrets,” directed by Mark Romanek, featured an entire subplot centered around Alice Cooper (sample dialogue, “Alice Cooper, what are you doing here?”) played by Dustin Ingram, and show-runner Winter promises more.
On KCRW’s The Business podcast with Kim Masters, Winter revealed the aforementioned Alice Cooper appearance, but added that the recently-departed David Bowie would turn up in the show at some point too (played by the actor Noah Bean).
“Moving forward we see Lou Reed, Robert Goulet, David Bowie, Elvis Presley, England Dan & John Ford Coley… John Denver, Donnie Osmond… it really runs the gamut [of a] colorful and diverse musical landscape,” Winter explained.
Considering the sensitivity to Bowie tributes of late —his son, filmmaker Duncan Jones throwing subtweeting Twitter shade at Lady Gaga for her over-the-top Grammy celebration, while Bowie’s longtime producer Tony Visconti implied the same when he said Lorde’s recent BRIT awards appreciation was “respectful” and the way you do it— it will be interesting to see what the “Vinyl” folks will play things.
IMDB, which is fairly accurate so far about the show’s appearances (though not the correct episodes), also notes that Peter Tosh, Gram Parsons, Buddy Holly, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and John Lennon will also make appearance on the show at some point.
Winter says “Vinyl” started gestating in 1996 with Jagger and Scorsese as a movie, but that he didn’t become involved with the project as a screenwriter until 2007. The movie was apparently killed by the financial crisis: “At the time it was a three-hour epic period piece that spanned forty years in the rock n’ roll business,” Winter explained. “And I handed in my first draft a month before the stock market collapsed in 2008. It became clear that it wasn’t getting a lot of traction as a movie.”
The writer/producer said by 2010, as “Boardwalk Empire” was up and running, they started to see the benefits of turning “Vinyl” into a TV show. HBO agreed and they deconstructed the movie script into a jumping off point for the show. “73 was the year we all zeroed in on as being the most interesting, volatile time,” he said. “’73 was the year, punk, disco and hip-hop were all invented within a five month period of each other. In the record business, that’s a really interesting time to [look at].”
What about those ratings? Masters diplomatically noted that the pilot episode’s ratings weren’t great, but that HBO surprisingly renewed the show for a second show nearly right away. Winter says that’s because ratings just don’t matter as much to HBO nor their viewers who don’t necessarily watch shows or episodes the first night they air.
“Viewing habits have changed so drastically that the truth is the first night doesn’t matter anymore,” he said. “It’s really like 20% of what it ultimately is after all platforms. Where we are now, we’re already past 2.5 million views, so it’s the number that comes out two, three weeks later that’s the actual number. Not that many people, apparently on Valentine’s night, were ready to sit down and watch a [what is essentially a two-hour] movie.”
Fair enough. “Vinyl” is on HBO now and airs Sunday nights at 9pm ET.