FEATURE: Sound and Vision: Why We Need an Enduring Music-Themed T.V. Show



Sound and Vision:


IN THIS PHOTO: A promotional shot from the HBO drama, Vinyl/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images  

Why We Need an Enduring Music-Themed T.V. Show


I have always contested, when it comes to the civil war between…


IN THIS PHOTO: A scene from Vinyl/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images  

British and American drama - the U.S. had an advantage over us! Maybe it is their deeper pockets or broader pool of talent – I feel the Brits have a lot of catching up to do. Most of our drama tends to stick within family-drama-and-domestic-strife-mixed-with-police-procedurals and we could never summon anything as imaginative and long-lasting as, say Orange Is the New Black, Girls or Mr. Robot. Those shows benefited from large budgets but I feel there is something about American drama that goes beyond anything here. Sure...we can do imaginative and stunning, but most of our T.V. shows do not last into seasons: we have series and tend not to have serial drama (apart from soaps) on the air. America has failing dramas but they have given the world so many great shows. Services like Netflix and Amazon mean we are witness to a cavalcade of captivating shows that hook you in and keep you invested – spending hours/days on the sofa glued to the latest happenings.


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That is not the same here...I feel the same with comedy: the U.S. is far superior when it comes to sitcoms. I look at new options like The Goldbergs and Black-ish and laugh my arse off regularly! Those shows have received mixed reviews but, for the most part, I watch the episodes and find myself bent-double with laughter. The lines are sharper and more unexpected; the premises and concepts go beyond what we offer here. That is been the case through history: America providing comedies that go beyond the obvious and are phenomenal sharp and memorable. We, here, are often lumbered with those traditional family sitcoms that rehash the same jokes and bore everyone with cringey scenarios and hapless losers. We tend to look at shows like The Office and base every comedy around the guise of the squirmy, un-P.C. lead - albeit it, one with a good heart. It gets boring but we could never create anything as belly-aching and brilliant as The Simpsons or Family Guy – our record with animated comedies is abysmal and embarrassing! So, then: what is the point of this opening?!


IN THIS IMAGE: A promotional shot for Family Guy/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images  

To me; there is a gulf between the U.S. and the U.K. In terms of T.V.; the nations are leagues-apart – that is not the case when it comes to music! I feel we are pretty evenly-matched with regards music! Despite the fact America has an incredible music economy, when it comes to converting that into film/T.V. magic – there is something a little lacking. Over the years, the U.K. has been a little more reliable when it comes to channelling the rich music scene into the screen. We have produced some great low-budget T.V. shows that have music as the backdrop; focus on periods such as the 1960s and 1970s – the effusive and transcendent vibes of the period swim into the head. This piece is compelled by the fact, over the past few years, our drama and comedies have been lacking and limited – aside from the odd one here and there; we cannot compete with the U.S. I was excited when the American T.V. drama Vinyl was announced in 2016. The premiere occurred on 14th February (2016), on HBO, and was an odd, if original, treat for Valentine’s Day! Although initial reviews were somewhat mixed; the series was renewed for a second season and, on 22nd June, 2016; the decision to continue the series was revoked. It seemed a slight retool would not improve the series - so it was not seen worth the producers’ time to continue the show. It is a shame; because I watched a few episodes and loved the performances and storylines. I am a big fan of actors like Olivia Wilde and Ray Romano and felt the ensemble was well-meshed and tight-knit. All the players were exceptional - but it was the entire cast that made it pop and resonate.


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The show was set in 1970s’ New York and the pilot saw Richie Finestra, President of American Century Records, on the verge of selling his struggling company to German Polygram - an impending distribution agreement with Led Zeppelin as part of the package. But, after an awkward encounter with Robert Plant; it's clear that the sale is in jeopardy. It goes from there but we see, through the series, various famous figures/musicians involved in the turbulent fortunes of the label; the music scene of New York in the 1970s; the characters’ lives intersect and develop - I felt it has legs and promise! Maybe it was quite niche and primed for a few episodes (rather than multiple series). Perhaps a film would have been a better fit but I feel more time and resourcing should have been paid to Vinyl. America has attempted other drama where music is the backdrop – I remember another set in Harlem that saw Hip-Hop and Rap scoring the goings-on. One other reason I was urged to pen something along these lines is because our attempts at music-based T.V. have been flat.


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We have a series right now, Sounds Like Friday Night, that has been struggling with critics and tries to mix sketches, live performances and guest hosts together. It is a hard blend to get right and it seems like an attempt to revive the popular show, Top of the Pops. That is coming back but only for a Christmas Special. We have created plenty of music shows but few that are fictional dramas that run for any length of time. The U.S. has Friday Night Lights and Nashville: two series that have provided smashes and, not only helped put certain genres and areas of music into the spotlight; some of their stars have gone on to launch their own music careers. I was annoyed talented actors like Olivia Wilde were put into a vehicle that was destined to run out of gas shortly into the trip – I would like to have seen it go a lot further!



Maybe that example was a case of a unique and ambitious show not quite hitting the mark and needing longer to bed-in. Networks and bosses are cut-throat when it comes to series: not willing to give them grace and see whether they can formulate into something successful (Breaking Bad was nearly sank because of the reluctance of networks). There is so much great music out there, past and present, that deserves some form of compassion and proper treatment. If Vinyl was the U.S.’ best attempt of the past few years: I wonder what Britain has to offer?! I would like to see something that combines the best U.S. and U.K. actors and spreads its time between both nations. I am fascinated by everything from the best 1960s Pop to the 1990s; the Dance scene of the latter and the incredible rush and genius we got from the former. It would be a comedy-drama and would look at various periods of music and the artists of the time – soundtracked by the finest songs of the time...


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I am thinking something that mixes the concept of Vinyl but brings in more comedic elements. Not only would a dramatic series – either financed by a British or American studio – be beneficial but we need other options, too. Here, we have a couple of televised music shows - but there is nothing that really gets into the mind and stays in the memory. Gone are the days where we lusted after chart sounds and tuned into Top of the Pops. In the U.S.; there are endless chat-shows – that feature music guests among the line-up – but very few other options that dispense with nauseating hosts and concentrate on the music itself! We have huge and growing radio stations but why can we not convert the rich and endless wealth of great music into something televised? I know acting and T.V./film is a different discipline but I worry T.V. bosses and studios are too rigid when it comes to comedy and drama.

Maybe I am drooling over the potential, shine and chain-smoking wonder of Vinyl - and baffled why it did not remain on the air longer. I am as big a music fan as anyone out there and feel there is a concept that could take music, historical or present, that captivates the masses and has that sustainable energy. Times are bad in the outside world so that desire for escapism and the arts is at an all-time high. We want to engage with something that reminds us of all the good out there; the brilliance of music and all the pleasure it brings. Listening to it is fine - but I feel there is so much more to get from the industry. I am fatigued and bored by our attempts at ‘comedy’. There have been a couple of great modern sitcoms but, largely, we produce the same thing - and we do not have the same writing talent as the U.S. That goes for drama and, whereas we can do gritty and domestic; we do not have the creative imagination and finances to do something as ambitious and scintillating as Breaking Bad.


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The music industry is different and, when it comes to comparing the two nations; each has their own strengths. The U.K. has produced the best music ever – I am thinking about the likes of The Beatles – and our modern Indie/Alternative scene is stronger. America has finer Hip-Hop artists and, whilst Rap stars like Eminem are past their best days, we cannot reach the same levels as Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Princess Nokia. Our nations have had their problems; we both have vastly unpopular leaders who are leading the world into peril and strife. I feel we need to come together and combine our wonderful music and entertainment industries. Not that a well-oiled and colourful music show will remedy the wounds inflicted by our leaders but we here need something to revitalise our T.V. shows – something that employs music and does something creative and inspiring with it. The U.S. has a stronger film and T.V. sector but it has struggled to create a music show that has endured (apart from the likes of Nashville). I am not sure what this as-yet-unreleased show would be called - but I am not the only one who feels the world deserves a format that unites T.V. and music…


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INTO something glorious.