At the TCA Press Tour panel, the cast and creators of the hotly anticipated ABC drama “Nashville” were quick to assure the audience that the show was not a piece of countrified puffery. With Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) and documentarian R.J. Cutler calling the shots, the series already promises much more than fluff. “[Television] is new for me, and I’m actually loving it,” said Khouri. “With a feature, you do it and it’s over… [With a series], I can plan for characters to do thing long into the future. The writing is at a faster pace than I’m used to, but that’s the only problem.”
But for viewers who are turned off by the idea of country music, the panel suggests that with Grammy-winning producer T Bone Burnett pitching in, the music will win over the most reluctant viewers. “I’ve heard a lot, ‘What if you don’t love country music?'” says star Hayden Panettiere. “Being down in [Nashville], you realize how broad the music really is. There’s blues and soul and bluegrass. I think people will realize they like this kind of music, even if they thing they don’t.” Calle Khouri made sure the cast understood how impressive the talent is in Nashville by taking them out on the town to hear it live in Nashville. “It’s like if you heard Shakespeare read his stuff, then heard someone play it,” said star Powers Boothe. “We heard songs that were quite popular, but I’d never heard them before. This guy did ‘That’s My Job,’ and at the end of it I cried.”
“And there’s nothing like watching Powers cry,” joked co-star Robert Wisdom.
“The essence is the purity of the singer-songwriters. It’s nothing like the Nashville sound or any of that. It’s truly the roots of America.” Connie Britton added that all of the characters have dramatically different styles, which range from the more traditional country sound of Britton’s character to the country-pop of Hayden Panettiere’s villain.
Both stars mentioned plans for a soundtrack. “The music is definitely worthy of it at some point,” said Panettiere, who recorded an album before turning full-time to acting.
Music driven shows and films (“Country Strong”) have tried and failed to find an audience in recent years, but Khouri thinks now is the time for “Nashville.” “Audiences are really hungry for great music… We’re not in a narrow country music area where only fans will like it.”
But don’t look for big country stars on the show. “We’re really focused on our cast. It’s not a cameo driven show,” Cutler said. “The musicians you see playing with Deacon [in the pilot]? Those are real Nashville musicians who are greatly respected and are known by people who know country. But in terms of throwing the focus, we’re open to it as it serves the story.”
Viewers may think the two main characters — Britton’s Rayna and Panettiere’s Juliette — seem like big stars already. “I ran into Reba [McEntire] and she said, ‘Did you hear you’re playing me?’ I said, ‘No, I had no idea!’ For me, it’s an amalgam of a lot of different people. I think it’s really fun to take from that palette and let this character emerge.”
“I’ve heard the Taylor Swift thing quite a bit,” Panettiere said of her vicious, bitchy character. “Other than being the same age and blonde, not even height, they’re very different. You’ll see that. I think Taylor would disagree wholeheartedly with that [idea of being similar].
We’re pretty sure Swift, who is known for her sweet personality, has little to do with Juliette — a singer so nasty Panettiere admits the effort of being so disrespectful can make her “a little shy sometimes.” Not that Juliette won’t be lots of fun as she manipulates and confuses other characters. “If you have a broken heart need a rebound, you’re feeling sad, Juliette is prowling somewhere around the corner.”