ABC‘s Nashville started as a family soap set against the backdrop of the Nashville music scene that followed one star at her peak, Rayna (Connie Britton), and one on the rise, Juliette (Hayden Panettiere). The country music business was as major part of the tapestry of the show as the twists and turns in the characters’ personal relationship. But then gradually over the first season of the show, which had one of the strongest launches in fall 2012, the soapy content started to rise, a trend that continued this season when the series also moved away from the Rayna-Juliette storyline that was at the heart of the show early on to focus on peripheral characters. (Word is that there will be a course correction in the second half of the season, with Rayna and Juliette’s relationship, plus Chip Esten’s Deacon, taking center stage again.) There have been rumors about pressure from ABC to make the show soapier, with former Nashville music producer T Bone Burnett fanning flames last fall with comments in an interview about “a knockdown, bloody, drag-out fight” behind the scenes over making music drama versus soap opera, and that star Britton too wasn’t too fond of the show’s creative direction.
At TCA today we caught up with Nashville creator Callie Khouri (who is married to Burnett), showrunner Dee Johnson and Britton to talk about the show’s evolution and the the network’s rumored involvement in making it more soapy. “I don’t actually know much about that; I don’t know where things come from,” Britton said when asked about any outside influence on the show’s creative direction but made her position on turning it into a soap opera clear. “I always talk to anyone I can about making the show less soapy,” she said. “But there are a lot of things that come into play as far as that goes.”
Johnson said a firm “no” on the network pressure question. While the show has to keep its audience, “the music keeps us grounded,” she said. It’s “real industry,” she said, noting that each episode typically includes three songs. Johnson did acknowledge there is pressure to move the story fast in a TV landscape so soapy it bubbles (Downton Abbey, Scandal, Revenge to name a few). “You have 42 minutes . . . you have to tell story more creatively,” she said.
For her part, Khouri said, “we’re soapier than I thought we would be at the beginning, but I also think we can tell good stories without being as soapy.” She said that part of going in a sudsier direction is about her getting her sea legs in her first foray into TV. “We walk a fine line,” she observed.