How ‘Vinyl’ Represents The Stunted Progress of Diversity on TV

How 'Vinyl' Represents The Stunted Progress of Diversity on TV

Bobby Cannavale is absolutely tremendous in "Vinyl." Even just one episode in, he’s already proven himself Emmy-worthy as the wildly dysfunctional record company executive who just loves, loves, loves music (perhaps to his own detriment). Yet the reason he’s already qualified for the most coveted award in all of television is because he got so much screen time in the pilot, and he gets so much screen time because he’s the lead of the series. Based on early samples of supporting players Olivia Wilde, Juno Temple and newcomer Ato Essandoh, all of them seem like they could be contenders, as well, but we just haven’t seen enough of them yet to know for sure.

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And somewhere within this rather elaborate comparison lies the problem. "Vinyl" is a very well-made, very well-acted series, but it’s not exactly breaking the mold in terms of its main arc: a self-involved, rich asshole worries about business. While it worked for a few shows earlier in the golden age of television — "Mad Men," specifically — so many more shows have come out since then to push the boundaries of who can lead a premium series and what those series can be about. Most of those shows were upstarts of sorts, though — like "Orange is the New Black" leading the charge in Netflix’s early days and "Transparent" helping to put Amazon on the map — instead of much-hyped premium dramas with Emmy prestige built-in before they even aired.

Keeping in mind the long-standing strategy of pay cable networks to appeal to the richest, whitest demographic possible as well as the similar background of "Vinyl’s" creative team, should we still be expecting more from the "big" shows coming out in today’s TV landscape? Should we be getting hyped for shows starring a woman or a minority telling stories we haven’t heard from perspectives that aren’t targeted at key demographics? And before you question the premise, ask yourself this: Would "Vinyl" have gotten the same hype behind it if it was about Olivia Wilde finding herself during a rough period in her marriage? Maybe. But maybe not.

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Discussing this and everything in between are Indiewire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers, your hosts for Very Good TV Podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe to Very Good TV Podcast via Soundcloud or iTunes. Follow Indiewire on Twitter and Facebook for all your pertinent TV news — including interview with people like Ray Romano and more from the "Vinyl" cast — plus check out Liz and Ben’s Twitter feeds for more, more, more. Plus, don’t forget to listen to Indiewire’s other podcasts, Screen Talk with Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson, as well as Indiewire Influencers, hosted by Editor in Chief Dana Harris and featuring various guests relevant to anyone tracking independent film or entertainment in general.

Related Articles and News:
– Looking for more on "Vinyl"? Check out Ben’s review and Liz’s interview with Ray Romano.

– If you missed "SNL" this week, make sure to check out the highlights for some already classic Melissa McCarthy skits.

– Aziz Ansari and Eric Wareheim released one of the weirdest homages to ’90s sitcoms you’ll ever see. Don’t miss it.

– Dr. Dre is making Apple’s first original series, and it’s already stirring up issues.

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Comments

Marty

Italian Americans are an underrepresented minority, too. Can’t we celebrate the fact that Bobby Cannavale is not playing a restaurant owner or a mob boss? RESPECT, SISTER!

whatever

So I’ve never seen a relatable gay characer on screen-I can still relate to rich white straight guys if the story is good. I’m not gonna tell a straight white dude to write a story with a gay jew as the main character-that would be pretty silly. Why is it that 20 something year old emotionally stunted feminists and insecure heterosexual men with an excess of estrogen now control the entertainment world? I think the golden age of television is about to see an early end, thank you all the parents who decided to lie to your kids and tell them they’re special…look where that’s got us. You made tumblr. Good fucking job hippie parents.

Nathan

But…butt…but…Bobby Cannavale is Cuban. He doesn’t even look white IMO.

Peggy

Yeah the show was blindingly Oscar White. Not sure if I will continue to watch it. It came close to that crappy HBO show about the mystical surfer dude.

Mel

It was definitely my thought when this show first came out-a story we’ve seen before from the same perspective we’ve seen before. Yes the actors are great and the talent behind it, but it’s predictable and tired. The makers of "Master of None" said it well when they accepted an award- "I want to thank straight white guys who dominated movies and tv so hard for so long that pretty much anything else seems refreshing."
The problem is while these talents get to stay in the world they’re comfortable with over and over, there’s barely any funding or support given for other stories to be told.

Jason

Bobby Canavale is Cuban.

Camilo P.

What is it with every website I go to pandering to political correctness. Alot of my favorite websites have done this. At the the rate this is going everything on the internet is gonna be like this. People wonder why people like Trump get support! This country is screwed! I’m of Hispanic descent by the way!

No

Isn’t interesting how this article talks about the problem of diversity, yet everyone is white on the podcast. Isn’t that highly ironic or merely unaware?

John

This site is going down the drain quickly.Is this film site or a political blog?

Jason

Except Bobby Canavale is half Cuban, half Italian so the subtitle of this article is wrong and offensive.

FUQYOU

FU Indiewire. I can’t wait for you to go out of business.

Steve

All of you commenters are spot on with your analysis. I am a white male and feel under siege constantly now just because of that simple fact. Is it a good show or not? Whether or not there are enough minorities in prominent roles is beside the point in judging its artistic merits. Save that for the political sites. Is this PC train ever going to stop or at least slow down?? We can only hope so.

Enrique

Ugh this article is so biased, is Indiewire buzzfeed now? You’re criticizing the show for what it isn’t instead of what it is. You mentioned a handful of shows that are about so called diversity but you complain in this one because the protagonist is a white male i mean is that forbidden to do now or what? @Derek is right maybe we can soon stop focusing on what ra e the actors are and just focus on the quality of the material.

Pam

Interesting column in that purporting to be a piece arguing for more high-profile roles for women and people of color, the anonymous writer refers to Ato Essandoh as a "newcomer." If you don’t know who he is, try consulting the friggin’ IMDB, because he is a veteran actor who has had recurring and regular series gigs, appeared in movies, and works in the stage. So maybe instead of chastising Martin Scorsese for being an Italian American who created an Italian American antihero, the writer needs to look at his or her own biases.

derek

Maybe one day we will actually stop paying attention to what race the actors are and just focus on weather the material works or not.

Von

I’m about through with Indiewire. The site used to have depth to its writing, but it’s sacrificed it in favor of facile pandering to whatever liberal talking point in in vogue.

TV is not as diverse as it could be, but it has made considerable strides, and in fact, all indications are that it continues to do so – in fact, it’s clear that broadcast, cable and streaming programmers have discovered the value of airing shows for a diverse audience. The author mentions two shows on streaming services, but leaves out about a dozen more that I could name off the top of my head. This should be celebrated and encouraged.

But taking Vinyl to task for starring a white male protagonist is absurd. Are such series not allowed anymore? Is the POV of accomplished artists (Winters, Scorsese, Jagger) writing about a milieu with which they’re familiar suddenly out of bounds simply because they’re white males? If TV wasn’t an increasingly diverse space, such an argument would have some merit, but given the state of television, it smacks of the sort of ridiculousness one hears from the whiniest of college students.

This is what passes for critical thought at Indiewire nowadays?

Disclaimer: I’m a Latino producer and filmmaker committed to hiring diverse faces and voices in all my productions.

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