Surprise! Paramount to Profit From HBO's 'Vinyl'

Vinyl Still 3 - H 2016
Courtesy of HBO

Vinyl Still 3 - H 2016

Martin Scorsese wanted a TV show, not a movie, so a quiet pact for the small-screen version of his planned '70s rock 'n' roll saga gave Paramount a share of (potentially big) profits.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Paramount spent three years developing a period rock 'n' roll drama with Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter and Mick Jagger — only to see the project fall apart and migrate to the small screen as HBO's Vinyl. But there's a silver lining. The film studio quietly worked out a deal to retain a financial stake in the TV series, which debuted Feb. 14.

Sources say Paramount received an upfront payment and will earn fees per episode and a small backend piece of any profits from Vinyl. That means if the Bobby Cannavale-Olivia Wilde series runs for multiple seasons, the deal could be lucrative for the studio.

So why would HBO and Paramount — representing rival media empires Time Warner and Viacom — agree to such a deal?

After trying to squeeze the tale of cocaine-addled record exec Richie Finestra into a three-act movie, Scorsese decided to take a reframed version to HBO. Paramount chairman and CEO Brad Grey wasn't about to step in the way, wanting to keep his relationship with Scorsese in good standing. (Scorsese has a first-look deal with Paramount and made his three most recent narrative features, including the Winter-penned The Wolf of Wall Street, at the studio.) Thus, Grey agreed to sell Vinyl to HBO, the network he worked with extensively as an executive producer of The Sopranos with Winter, who went on to create Boardwalk Empire for the network (with Scorsese directing the pilot).

"As we were developing the feature, it became clear to Marty, Terry, Mick, [co-creator] Rick [Yorn] and me that there was way more here than even a three-hour movie," says Grey. "Marty believed strongly it was an episodic, mul­tiseason kind of story. We've all learned again and again to trust Marty."

In order to extricate the film — which had been in development for more than a decade at Disney before Paramount picked it up in 2007 — HBO needed to think creatively. Even the free-spending network couldn't afford the film's 15 years of accumulated turnaround costs. So the Vinyl sharing deal is unique for HBO, with the closest approximation being its upcoming sci-fi series Westworld, which Warner Bros. had been considering as a big-screen remake of the 1973 film before the property landed at HBO in 2013. But Westworld represents a project staying within the same corporate umbrella. Vinyl required some intercompany politicking.

HBO president Michael Lombardo thinks the Vinyl arrangement might be the start of a trend as network dramas become more cinematic and A-list filmmakers seek to tell episodic stories over multiple seasons. "It's a testament to what's going on in television right now," says Lombardo. "There are stories that certain filmmakers have struggled to tell in a two-hour format for a very long time. And I think you will be seeing more of this situation in the future."