Since the dawn of the new "Golden Era of Television" HBO has been at the forefront. With shows such as The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, and Curb Your Enthusiasm HBO forged an instant legacy that propelled the television medium to new heights. Giving filmmakers and TV legends alike unprecedented creative license, television in this era has become much akin to the era of '70s filmmaking. Its become edgy, original, and above all else tapped into a collective link with audiences.
With HBO's juggernaut show Game of Thrones nearing the end of its run, coupled with the push of online television platforms such as Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix, the once mighty cable channel is struggling to find a new hallmark program. This is where the unfocused and over-budget first season of Vinyl comes into the fold.
According to an article from The Hollywood Reporter on HBO's current complicated climate, Vinyl's freshman season cost a staggering $100 million to create. Most of this budget was given to the massive soundtrack rights costs. The pilot alone cost the network $30 million. Expecting a show like Vinyl to be the successor to Boardwalk Empire was a fair gamble, but the ratings expectations coupled with its massive budget screamed the old tales of Michael Cimino and his film Heaven's Gate.
To make an incredibly fascinating story short, filmmaker Michael Cimino received an exorbitant budget following his Best Picture win for his film The Deer Hunter to make his follow up, Heaven's Gate. The film was a financial and (mostly unfair) critical bomb. The results nullified the maverick, ego fueled 70's era making way yet again for the big studio films to reign supreme.
Both Vinyl and Heaven's Gate reflect the artistic highs of those eras both were made during, as well as the excess that resulted. The difference being that Vinyl will have no where near the negative impact on its medium the way Heaven's Gate did.
The beauty of the system put in place by Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon is they no longer need to worry about basic metrics such as ratings. What they boil down to are nothing more than the sheer amount of subscribers they net. What they green-light isn't dependent on being a success, it's just what will convince their market to stay a subscriber.
It's why Netflix signed Adam Sandler and David Fincher; it's why Amazon signed Woody Allen and Spike Lee. They can afford to pay these filmmakers big money to make their vision, and at the end of the day it'll only bring in more subscribers. If you see a bad Adam Sandler movie on Netflix, I seriously doubt it would cause you to cancel your subscription.
I veer off topic, but my point being, that although Vinyl has struggled, and only gotten in deeper *expletive* now that its show-runner Terence Winter is out, it will not affect the realm of TV the way Heaven's Gate did to film. And this says a lot about both the massive opportunities TV brings, and its dangers.
HBO, which still remains primarily a cable network, continues to take missteps. They have not had a massive hit since Game of Thrones debuted in 2011, and with such shows as Vinyl and the often-trouble, still un-aired, Westworld, things only seem to be getting worse. Not that their chief rival is doing any better.
On the other side of the pond, AMC also struggles to find a successor to its powerhouse show, The Walking Dead, as well as critical darling Mad Men. The spinoff to the aforementioned, titled Fear the Walking Dead, has been unable to find big numbers in its viewership, luckily this is balanced out by the modest critical success of the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul. Still, AMC looks for more hallmark shows.
You could chalk this up as both networks trying to find lightning in a bottle a second time, seeking replacements rather than what's new and fresh. You can also argue that both networks are getting lost in the sea of internet programming breaking through. What is all boils down to is the product itself.
I was very enthusiastic about the pilot of Vinyl. It did indeed feel like a massive culmination of what the cable medium could be. We got a two hour pilot (basically a feature length film) from Martin Scorsese. What followed, however, was an incredibly uneven season with mostly boring storylines and a lack of focus on its more interesting subject matter (the record industry) going instead for a cliche and dull mobster storyline.
Whether or not Vinyl can, as the Ramones say, pick up the pieces remains to be seen. With a new showrunner and high production costs expectations will be high for a quick rebound. But, for all their failures in finding a new Game of Thrones, HBO still doesn't seem to be going anywhere.