HBO’s upcoming series Vinyl has a lot to offer in terms of star power both in front of and behind the camera. Produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, and boasting a cast of tried and true television stars as well as up and coming actors, it promises to be just the kind of high quality, high style series one has come to expect from a network like HBO, with an added cinematic gravitas, thanks to Scorsese’s hand in it.
Promotional ads for the series are exciting, wild, frenetic – quick flashes of a New York City of times past, gritty and dangerous, intercut with mosh pits, loud music, Bobby Cannavale royally losing it. It calls to mind the great career-making films of early Scorsese, exhilarating and innovative works like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas. Though he isn’t the showrunner of the series, his impact is clearly felt. It’s a promising series and, though we don’t know everything about it yet, there are some important facts we do – and you should know them too.
In no particular order, here are 12 Things You Need to Know About HBO’s Vinyl.
12. It promises to have a great soundtrack
Vinyl is a show about music, so music is going to be a huge element of the show – almost as much of a character as the actual characters, and just as conversation starting. With a setting in the early 70s, the series is coming up on a great background (pop and soul) while at the same time hovering on the precipice of huge genres like punk, disco, and hip-hop. The 70s were a rich time in music history, and Vinyl is going to take full advantage of that; the music budget alone per episode was allegedly in the six figures.
Starting February 12th, weekly EPs are going to be released with songs from that week’s episode and inspired by the series. The variety of artists represented mixes old and new, showcasing emerging musicians while also reminding audiences of the greats of decades past. On the soundtrack, you’ll find the likes of Charli XCX next to Iggy Pop, and Otis Redding alongside Trey Songz.
11. It focuses on New York’s music scene in the 1970s
The show takes on the music industry at all its various levels, following not only the executives and A&R reps, but the musicians too, tackling the subject matter from all sides. It’s not just a story of the offices where music is produced and sold, but also the venues where bands play, find their sound, and are discovered. New York is also integral to the setting; as a major city full of different kinds of people, it’s on the cutting edge of what would become popular.
The series has two music supervisors, Randall Poster and Meghan Currier. Poster’s IMDB is a seemingly endless scroll, with credits in countless movies and shows with notably great music, such as Velvet Goldmine (another 1970s-set music epic) and multiple Wes Anderson films. Currier seems similarly well equipped with credits in Boardwalk Empire, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Mozart in the Jungle, among others. Together the two seem more than qualified to represent a full picture of that decade in music.
10. It was created by Martin Scorsese & Mick Jagger (& Rich Cohen & Terence Winter)
The original embryo of an idea for this show was concocted two decades ago by Mick Jagger, who wanted to make a film that looked at the inner workings of the music industry. Eventually, he took the idea to Martin Scorsese, his collaborator on the Rolling Stones documentary, Shine a Light (2008), when conversations between the two led to Jagger suggesting a film that spanned four decades in the music industry through the eyes of two best friends.
The project was first called “History of Music” and was going to be produced for Disney and written by the screenwriter of The Departed, William Monahan. Over the years, the project bounced around, landing with Paramount for a time before finding a home with HBO, where it was finally able to come into being as a series with the help of Terence Winter. Both men are still on board as producers and consultants; Scorsese directed the pilot and is planning to direct more episodes down the line. Their influence will likely be felt throughout the project, with their lengthy careers in cinema and music adding to the authenticity of the series.
9. Scorsese has made a lot of music documentaries
Martin Scorsese has been almost as prolific with documentaries as he has with feature films. Some of his docs are personal, other delve into cinematic history, and still other follow various important figures in music. Soundtrack has always played a big part in the style of Scorsese’s narrative films, and that history will likely help Vinyl find a distinct sound, as well as give it a sense of personal connection.
In addition to the aforementioned Shine a Light, Scorsese has made several musical documentaries of note, starting in 1978 with the concert film The Last Waltz. It recorded the farewell concert of the Band, who were longtime Bob Dylan collaborators, and featured a huge number of special guests noted for their impact on American music; including, but not limited to, Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Eric Clapton. Scorsese would continue to delve into rock legends of the 60s and 70s with 2005’s No Direction Home and 2011’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World. No Direction Home told the story of Bob Dylan’s rise to fame and prominence, up until a 1966 motorcycle crash that took him momentarily out of commission. It explored the folk scene Dylan first came up in and the kinds of artists who influenced him, as well as his own journey from folk to rock. It more than proves the expert handle Scorsese has on real rock history, so examining it in fiction should be a snap.
8. James Jagger plays an up and coming musician
Mick Jagger’s involvement is not solely in a producing capacity; he also gave casting a hand by supplying the show with his son, James Jagger. Son to Mick and longtime partner Jerry Hall, thirty-year-old James is relatively new to acting though familiar to music, and not just because of who his father is. James fronted rock band Turbogeist and picked up the odd bit part in film or television, but Vinyl will be his first prominent role.
Jagger Jr. plays Kip Stevens, lead singer of fictional punk band the Nasty Bits. Promos emphasize the importance of the band when it comes to both revitalizing record company American Century and ushering in a new era of music. Despite the rock royalty heritage and role as the frontman of a band in the 70s, it doesn’t seem like Vinyl is intending to offer up Mick Jagger: the Sequel. The Nasty Bits are not inspired by or based on the Rolling Stones, who were already successful by the show’s 1973 set date, and were definitely never punk rock.
7. Jack Quaid plays an A&R exec
James Jagger won’t be the only cast member with a famous legacy behind him; Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan’s son will also be appearing in the series. Jack Quaid is a young actor, perhaps best known for playing a character in The Hunger Games (2012) who you might not remember. He was a District 1 tribute named Marvel who killed fan favorite Rue and met his own end thanks to one of heroine Katniss’ arrows. He has appeared in a variety of shorts and small roles, but once again Vinyl seems primed to be his real launching point.
Quaid will be playing an A&R exec named Clark Morelle who tries to make his mark in a competitive company. Promotional material for the series doesn’t offer much of a glimpse of Morelle, but it seems to be a question as to whether his ambition can keep him afloat and help him succeed. Perhaps it will just end up hindering him: a Peter Campbell for the music biz.
6. Ray Romano plays a record exec with a questionable past
Ray Romano is probably one of the stars in front of the camera with the most immediate name recognition thanks to the ubiquitous nature of his long running sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. Romano has done a decent job of keeping himself in the public eye with minor tweaks on his accepted image. A recurring role on the television show Parenthood made him (and his distinctive comedic voice) seem somewhat less like sitcom material, and made for a nice transition into the drama of Vinyl.
On the series, Romano will be playing Zak Yankovich, the Head of Promotions at American Century. The character has been described as tough, with shadowy mob connections (you can’t have a Scorsese project set in the 70s without some kind of mob connections, after all) that will likely create action in the series going forward. It marks a real change of pace for Romano, and it will be interesting to see how he handles it.
5. It has a great supporting cast
There isn’t much in-depth information to provide on every single cast member and character, but the little there is promises a talented supporting cast portraying a variety of fascinating characters. Actor Ato Essandoh, whose interesting history involves shifting from chemical engineering studies at Cornell to acting, has appeared in such disparate works as Elementary, Girls, Copper, and Garden State. He will be playing Lester Grimes, a former singer and former friend of the lead character. Essandoh is also set to appear in the upcoming addition to the Bourne franchise.
Also appearing is Max Casella, best remembered for his role as Leo D’Alessio on Boardwalk Empire, as well as bit parts in everything from Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) to Revolutionary Road (2008). (One would also do well to remember that he first made his mark on television as the teen best friend to Neil Patrick Harris’ Doogie Howser; congratulations on them both for coming this far.) In Vinyl, Casella plays Julie Silver, the Head of A&R at American Century Records, a man struggling to keep up with the times.
4. Juno Temple plays rising talent in the company
Juno Temple has been quietly building up quite the filmography for the past sixteen years, making appearances in a myriad of films both independent and big budget. She’s gone from acting as a child in a memorable role in Atonement (2007) to playing a fairy in Maleficent (2014), but indie movies are where she has really been able to shine. She is the daughter of filmmaking Julian Temple, known for his Sex Pistols documentaries among others, so both movies and rock and roll are seemingly in her blood.
Temple will be playing Jamie Vine, an A&R assistant who discovers James Jagger’s Nasty Bits and apparently has her ear to the ground when it comes to the more cutting edge musical acts in the city. Her combination of youth, coolness, and insider status will be a real bonus as she fights to rise to the top in the company – a particular hardship thanks to a workplace rather unwelcoming to ambitious women. It seems like there might be interesting roles for women on the series, though at the same time there doesn’t appear to be many of them.
3. Olivia Wilde is a former Warhol Superstar
Perhaps the most prominent female role (an assumption based solely on star power and promo) is Olivia Wilde as Devon Finestra, wife to lead actor Bobby Cannavale’s record executive. Wilde first became known in the public eye for her role in the television show House, though she was able to parlay that into moderate movie success and a fair amount of name recognition. Wilde has mixed action and horror flicks with independent critical darlings, and Vinyl could very well be where mainstream and quality intersect for her.
Devon is a former Warhol Superstar, though a fictional one; Warhol superstars were quasi-celebrities famous for not much outside of their sense of style and their proximity to a famous artist. A real life Warhol hanger-on, Ingrid Superstar, will also make an appearance in Vinyl, played by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen. As things get more hectic throughout the series, Wilde’s Devon will find herself longing for her old life, which probably granted her a lot more freedom and fun than being the bored housewife of an increasingly off-the-rails husband.
2. Terence Winter is the showrunner
While Terence Winter wasn’t involved with the show from the get-go, he seems like a natural choice as a showrunner given his previous work with both Scorsese and HBO. A former lawyer, of all things, Winter switched over to screenwriting in the early 90s, eventually landing in the writing room of The Sopranos. During the time he spent on The Sopranos, he won a total of four Emmys. Not bad at all.
After that, Winter went on to create the series Boardwalk Empire, for which he also functioned as showrunner and head writer. It also marked his first collaboration with Martin Scorsese, who directed the series pilot (as he will do for Vinyl) and also acted as an executive producer. Their second time working together was for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013); Winter wrote the screenplay – and was nominated for an Academy Award. It seems he and Scorsese work well together, and that bodes well for Vinyl.
1. It stars Bobby Cannavale
Bobby Cannavale has spent years turning in excellent television performances across a range of shows, netting four Emmy nominations and two wins – one for Will & Grace in 2005 and the other for Boardwalk Empire in 2013, two roles that couldn’t be more different. Vinyl is a series comprised of Boardwalk Empire alums, which could mean great things for the series; they’re a cast and crew that obviously know how to work together, and have done so to great effect in the past.
Cannavale stars as Richie Finestra, president and founder of American Century Records; he’s the centerpiece (in more ways than one) of all the crazy goings-on in the series. It’s the kind of role that is likely to earn him a ton of buzz, full of coke-fueled freak-outs and antihero appeal. Richie definitely doesn’t seem to be a good guy, which is right on the mark for both Scorsese and Winter, but he’s a big personality with a lot of cache, an important figure falling apart while trying to keep himself together. In other words: a riveting disaster, a car crash you can’t look away from.
Do you know anything else about the series that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!
Vinyl premieres February 14th on HBO.