HBO's Vinyl is steeped in rock n' roll history, from the musicians it references to the movements it emulates, which is no surprise considering the talent behind the project includes important figures in rock and roll like Mick Jagger. However, because the series tells a fictional story that takes place in the real world, some liberties with the time period have been taken — including original characters. On Vinyl , Ray Romano plays Zak Yankovich, Head of Promotions at American Century Records, and you may be wondering where he falls in terms of accuracy. Promotions are a key part of any record company, so is Zak Yankovich based on a real person who worked in music promotion in the '70s?
It would appear that Zak is an entirely original character created for Vinyl, filling the role of not just promotions, but also as a voice of reason. However, although he is a very fictional character, he still works in a very real position. A Promotions Manager's "primary responsibility is to obtain radio airplay for as many of the label’s singles and albums as possible," according to Careers in Music. Vinyl seems dedicated to giving a detailed look at each position that makes a record label run. Zak's role, beyond promotions manager, is the very typical one of "Manager that needs to tell the talent to calm down" — except in this case, the talent that needs calming down includes the other managers at American Century. This role has been filled many a time by other characters in music-based films and television shows. Here are some other "voices of reason" in rock and roll stories from the past that Zak may remind you of.
Tom Hanks as Mr. White in That Thing You Do
In a comedy that he wrote and directed, Tom Hanks still found the energy to appear as an A&R representative that overlooks the development of small-town band "The Oneders," who unfortunately live up to their name by becoming just that — one-hit wonders.
Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess in Cadillac Records
Adrien Brody, still relatively fresh off his Oscar win for The Pianist, took on the role of a true record industry legend — record company executive Leonard Chess. His roster of artists was nothing short of perfect, including musicians like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Etta James.
Tony Hendra as Ian Faith in This Is Spinal Tap
The rock comedy to end all rock comedies, This Is Spinal Tap couldn't resist mocking the dichotomous world of rock and roll by showing the band's manager caught up in a constant, futile struggle to keep his band on the right track. Perhaps Zak Yankovich should invest in a cricket bat sooner rather than later.
It's true that no matter wherever people are trying to produce and promote outrageous art, there will always be someone to be practical about the whole situation. It's not necessarily a positive or a negative, it's simply the reality of the situation. Zak Yankovich follows in a long line of similar archetypes, but hopefully Vinyl will give us a clearer view of what it's like to work in that position than any other music story has told so far.
Image: Macall B. Polay/HBO