EXCLUSIVE: Nashville‘s Rayna James is gaining a full-time friend and a full-time foe for next season. Recurring players Oliver Hudson and Will Chase are being promoted to regulars for Season 3, contingent on the ABC series getting …
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.
Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor.
What two popular TV show titles are least likely to occur in the same sentence? There is no single answer, but British producer Gareth Neame was decidedly taken aback when a family member came up with this combo: “We used to have Dallas. Now we have Downton.” Downton is, of course, the PBS Masterpiece hit Downton Abbey, the sprawling saga of the fabulously wealthy Crawley family, unfolding at the family’s English country estate. And Dallas is, well Dallas (1978-1991) CBS’ soapy saga of Texas oil baron J.R Ewing, set on the lavish Southfork Ranch. While the worlds of feathered bonnets and 10-gallon hats couldn’t seem more different, Downton executive producer Neame says the comparison confirmed what he’d been thinking when he proposed the series to creator-writer Julian Fellowes: Once again, there is room for the nighttime soap on the TV landscape.
As in the era of Dallas—which spawned Dynasty, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing—the primetime soap has surged in popularity with viewers. Along with the crown jewel Downton Abbey, witness the appearance of new and glamorous multigenerational sagas including ABC’s Nashville and Revenge. To prove the point, there’s even a new Dallas on TNT, with some of the original stars including Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy (J.R.’s “good” brother Bobby) returning to ruin each other’s lives for a new generation of viewers.
At the networks’ upfront presentations, they usually tout their freshman successes. Last year, ABC brought out onstage the casts of breakout freshman dramas Once Upon A Time and Revenge, while CBS built its presentation around 2 Broke Girls. This year, ABC, which normally brings only 1-2 casts to the upfronts, is going with the cast of sophomore Scandal (plus veteran Modern Family, whose trip is paid for by USA as the cable network will showcase the comedy’s syndication rollout). Scandal‘s presence is completely justified as the Shonda Rhimes drama is that rare show that made the leap from an inauspicious start with a 7-episode run at the very end of last season to a bona fide success and a pop culture fixture in Year 2.
But its presence also underlines the fact that, unlike last season, ABC does not have a single breakout freshman series that has been a slam dunk for renewal. NBC has Revolution, CBS has Elementary, Fox has The Following, and the CW has Arrow — all of which received early pickups. ABC is heading into its renewal decisions tomorrow with its entire freshman class on the bubble. The one first-year show that appears most likely to get the nod is country drama Nashville. With a great pedigree, creator Callie Khouri and star Connie Britton, Nashville launched to critical praise and OK ratings. But it’s had a rocky freshman season, with the show going through growing pains and struggling with its creative direction as well as the ratings. I’ve heard accounts of tension between co-producers ABC Studios and Lionsgate and other behind-the-scene issues, including star Britton being unhappy with the experience. But in the end, most problems seem to have been resolved, and Nashville, which at one point looked unlikely to continue, now likely will be on the schedule next season. In addition to the solid response from critics (Britton is a major awards contender), Nashville draws important young viewers and also generates sizable revenue from digital music downloads. The only other freshman ABC drama that is still alive, Red Widow, is not expected to come back.
Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
Today’s PaleyFest panel on ABC’s freshman drama Nashville raised questions appropriate for a soap opera: When the show returns on March 27, what heat will develop between Connie Britton’s Rayna James and Charles Esten’s Deacon Claybourne? And when (if ever) will Deacon find out he’s really the father of Rayna’s daughter Maddie? Plus a question from the audience: As per news reports, are the stars of the country music series planning to go on a concert tour? The show’s creator/executive producer Callie Khouri joked: “We might go on vacation.” Added Esten: “I know there’s talk about it, but it’s in vague stages, it would make sense to anybody on some level, but there’s nothing very concrete about it.” Esten added that he hoped that the man in charge of the music for Nashville — T Bone Burnett, who is also Khouri’s husband, would be an integral part of the venture. “I would say again that if it ever happened in any form that T Bone would have his warm and loving arms around it and make it all that it could be”.
Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor
Hayden Panettiere, 23, began her career as a child actor on the soaps One Life to Live and Guiding Light, and met an untimely death as Kirby Reed in Scream 4. But she is perhaps best known as Claire Bennet, the high-school cheerleader with supernatural powers on NBC’s Heroes. She’s trying to change that girl-next-door image in ABC’s Nashville, portraying ambitious, conniving country-pop diva Juliette Barnes, youthful nemesis of old-school country star Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton). Apparently the catfight chemistry is working: ABC recently handed the freshman series created by Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) a full-season order. And both Panettiere and Britton scored big at the Golden Globe nominations: Panettiere netted a nom for best supporting actress in a TV series, miniseries, or motion picture, and Britton is up for best actress in a TV drama.
AwardsLine: This role was a lot to take on with singing. What led you to accept the part of Juliette?
Hayden Panettiere: I love the fact that this character that Callie Khouri created is so multidimensional; there’s so many layers to her. But this was a big deal for me because I really wanted to break away from my character in Heroes. I’m so deeply blessed that I got to play that character, don’t get me wrong, but I knew after that character it would be an uphill battle for people to see me as anything besides the all-American cheerleader.
Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor
Connie Britton, 45, is a multiple Emmy Award nominee for her roles on Friday Night Lights and American Horror Story. But during one of her typical 16-hour workdays for ABC’s freshman drama Nashville, she says of her first Golden Globe nomination—for best actress in a TV drama series—that it never gets old: “I’m far from jaded about awards nominations.” Britton shares the honor with costar and fellow Golden Globe nominee Hayden Panettiere, 23, and talks about why their onscreen duet seems to work.
AwardsLine: What is the appeal of the uneasy relationship between your character, Rayna Jaymes, and her young competitor, Hayden Panettiere’s Juliette Barnes?
Connie Britton: I was talking to (Nashville creator) Callie Khouri last night, and we were both talking about just how much fun it is, particularly now that Hayden’s character and my character are really engaging. What’s funny to me is, in the first five or six episodes, we didn’t really engage that much. There is something really interesting about these two women in very different places in their lives who are fighting for their lives in different ways.
AwardsLine: We hear stories about actors who go to unusual lengths to stay in character on set—fellow Golden Globe nominee Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln is a good example. What about you two?
EXCLUSIVE: Kimberly Williams-Paisley is poised to make her guest-starring stint on ABC’s new drama Nashville permanent. The According To Jim alumna in August signed on for a multi-episode arc on the soap set against the backdrop of the Nashville music scene. She ended up appearing in six of the original 13 episodes of the freshman drama, which was recently given a full-season pickup. Now she is set to appear in at least three episodes of Nashville‘s back nine with an option to become a series regular in Season 2 if the show is renewed.
NBC’s attempt to improve its fortunes on Wednesday by replacing underperforming (and already cancelled) newbie Animal Practice with sophomore Whitney is not working, at least not from the get go. In its second season premiere last night, Whitney (1.4/4 in adults 18-49) matched the debut in the Wednesday 8 PM slot of its predecessor Animal Practice. It was down 30% from Whitney‘s debut in the time period last spring and tied as its series low. Guys With Kids (1.3/4), the only Wednesday series to still be awaiting a decision on a back order, was flat with two weeks ago and also tied as a series low. Law & Order: SVU (1.6/4) was down 6% from two weeks ago, and it too tied its series low. After the big ratings jump last week when it followed an original Voice, newly picked up Chicago Fire (1.6/5) retreated 27% for a net gain of .1 vs. its original two weeks ago. But it held onto 100% of its lead-in, something no other 10 PM rookie drama has been able to do this season.
The other new Wednesday 10 PM drama that received a full-season order over the past week was ABC’s Nashville (1.8/5), which reversed its ratings downtrend last week with a .2 uptick. But the rise was short-lived as the soap dropped .2 last night to return to the series low level of two weeks ago. The entire ABC Wednesday lineup was in negative territory last night. The Middle (2.5/8) was down 7%; The Neighbors (1.9/5) down 10% to tie its series low; Modern Family (4.6/12) down 4% and Suburgatory (2.4/6), which continues its pendulum swings, down 17% from last week’s season high to tie its season low.
ABC has handed out its second full-season order to a freshman show this season, drama Nashville, starring Connie Britton. The soap, created by Callie Khouri, was one of the best reviewed new shows this fall. It was a late starter, held back two weeks because of presidential debate coverage. Nashville has been soft in the ratings but had an 11% ratings uptick last week to a 2.0 in adults 18-49 rating. The show went through growing pains, including a showrunner change, with Dee Johnson replacing Jim Parriott.