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Things sure are a’changin’ in Music City, USA! The new ABC show Nashville is  coming to town!

Once upon a time, Nashville was a tiny Southern town pretty much like any other – except for one thing- it was where country music was made. And even though Music Row was a dusty, unpaved street lined with small houses bursting with tiny record labels and recording studios, and the tallest building in town was the Ryman Auditorium, country music fans from the farms and the hills flocked to the city in their wagons, rickety trucks, and even on horseback to see “hillbilly singers” perform. Fans revered their favorite stars, considered them to be the "Kings and Queens of Country", and attended their shows, bought their records and stayed loyal to them pretty much, no matter what.
POWERS BOOTHE, L. WARREN YOUNG, JOHN MICHAEL WEATHERLY
But that was then and this is now, and country music has become big business. Now fans in planes, millionaires in limousines, and execs on the prowl come to the not-so-very-small-anymore town now referred to by some as “NashVegas” , looking not for “a dollar and a dream,” but for a chance to bite off a chunk of bone-fide “American” Music for themselves.

The first and only project to do that successfully thus far was the film Nashville, directed by Robert Altman, which was released in 1975. Featuring an awesome roster of future stars including Keith Carradine, Karen Black, Ronee Blakly, Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Chaplin, and Shelley Duvall among others, this film was so successful it shined a brilliant spotlight on Nashville’s unique culture, revealing the town’s awesome potential to the world, and helping it grow into what is now called “the third coast of entertainment,” along with NY and LA. Since then, many others have attempted to interpret country music’s quirky culture and ways on film and television, but all those efforts have failed.
CHARLES
But now, a group of Nashville insiders have come to together to try to tell Nashville’s story the right way, not like a sugar-coated pill of nostalgia from the past, but the way it really is in 2012. Where a record label might humiliate a fading Queen of Country Music by asking her to be the opening act for a much-younger star, where the Bluebird is a set and as well as a place, and ABC green lights a TV series about today’s billion $$$ country music industry. These days, it’s not just all about the art, the song, the voice, or the music- or  the clothes, the jewels, or the actors, or even the bitter rivalries among the characters. It’s also about show business.

And as we all know- show business is a hard business. So let the meanest, toughest and most ruthless characters win- or not. And like it or not- that makes for great television! So here at Dish, we say- NASHVILLE,  BRING IT ON!
Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere
Connie Britton (American Horror Story, Friday Might Lights) and Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) are starring in a brand new version of Nashville, which is being produced by a group of Nashville insiders that includes writer Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise), her husband, famed record producer T-Bone Burnett (Crazy Heart, Hunger Games Soundtracks), Steve Buchanan of Gaylord Entertainment (owns Ryman Auditrium, Opryland, and other famed attractions). Also involved are showrunner Dee Johnson (Boss) and R.J. Cutler (Flip This House), and backed by Lionsgate TV and ABC Studios, all of which gives this project a definite advantage over the many previous failed efforts. The cast also includes some recognizable faces including Eric Close (Without a Trace), Kimberly Williams-Paisley (According to Jim and wife of country star Brad Paisley), and Powers Boothe (Hatfields & McCoys).

Panettiere stars as Juliette Barnes, an ambitious, youthful and mean-spirited up and coming country singer, whose star is definitely on the rise. Juliette gets Nashville’s “NashVegas” predilections, and intends to rise to the very top, no matter what or who gets in the way.

Nashville Poster“I've grown up doing this my whole life,” Panettiere told Dish at the Nashville TCA junket in Los Angeles recently. “One thing that my parents instilled in me was definitely respect for other people. So when I have to go on set and completely go against the grain and disrespect somebody so wholeheartedly, it's definitely something new to me. I even get a little bit shy sometimes, and they'll cut after a scene, and I'll say to Connie, ‘I'm so sorry.  You know I adore you.  I respect you.’  But it's interesting and it does make it fun.  And I think the more we explore it, and the more people understand the depths of our characters and not just the straight rivalry on the surface, then it will get more interesting and more fun.”

Connie Britton plays Superstar Diva Rayna James, 20 years Juliette’s senior with a long, hugely successful career, and #1 hits consistently topping the charts. But suddenly, Rayna finds her popularity is on the wane, and ticket sales on her latest tour are way down. Instead of headlining, her label wants her to be the opening act on another tour, starring Juliette Barnes, her much younger rival.  
Connie with assistant
But to Britton, the goings-on are much more than just a catfight between two rivals. She explains, “Yeah. I think some of the most fun scenes that we shot were at the Opry. They were so kooky and it's just two people behaving in such bizarre ways.  And I've had long conversations with Callie about this. I told her, ‘I think that we have a real opportunity to show the complexities of these two kinds of people in show business, and particularly women.’   And she agreed. I for one feel a really strong responsibility to do that in a way that is true and dignified. My whole mantra from the beginning is that this is not a catfight.  I'm not doing a catfight, you know, and I don't think anybody's interested in that.  I think we're much more interested in showing these two people at different places in their lives, and what their journeys will be.”

Apart from the character’s personal differences, Nashville is really about the music, country music of course. And Juliette and Rayna are both singers. So Dish asked Panettiere and Britton to talk about the singing?  

“Well, I think that Connie and Hayden would have very different conversations about this," Britton said.  I can talk to you about Hayden because she's a great singer.  She's a legitimately great singer. She added, "Plus, Connie is having a journey.  It's a journey, and it's an exciting journey, because it's a journey with T Bone Burnett.”  
Hayden upset 
Panettiere returned the compliment, saying, “What's Connie's not saying, Connie's been amazing since the beginning, but I just recently heard some of the newer tracks that she's recorded, and they're pretty unbelievable.  So she's going to be schooling us all.”  

Panettiere continued, “I recorded an album when I was younger, from about age 15 to 19, something like that, and in that period of time, I just was so ever-changing as a person. I think music really reflects who you are as a person, so you're really putting yourself out there.  And I quit after about four or five years of recording, and I said ‘this is not me, but I said that if I was ever going to do music again, I would do country music.”  And for this to come along and to get to do both of the things I love combined in one show, it's a dream come true.  Really.  And I don't mean that in a cliche way.”
Robert Wisdom and Karen Thomas
“I would actually say, for me it's a dream come true, too," Britton added, "because it’s rare as an actor to have the opportunity to stretch my muscles in this way, you know.  I have sung my whole life, but not really that professionally. Not really professionally at all, but as an actor to be able to work with the best, the best writer and the best music producer, that's also a dream come true.”

Britton, who mastered the archetype of the whole Southern women thing on Friday Night Lights is now using that experience once again, playing a kind of strong, but also sweet- looking woman.  

“Well, there's something about Southern women that is so unique and yet so universal,” Britton explained, “and I think that's why people really respond to strong Southern women. Strong Southern women are also allowed to be soft and feminine and have a sense of humor, and there's something that I really love about that. But what I love about it in particular is actually the universality of it.  I've had a lot of different backgrounds, and this character is actually incredibly different from Tami Taylor of Friday Night Lights.  I think even her accent is going to be different.  There probably won't be as many y'alls.”
Connie Britton
There seem to be some hints in the pilot that Hayden’s character might be based on an artist like Taylor Swift. And same with Connie, whose character seems awfully reminiscent of an artist like Reba McEntire. Are the actors thinking about specific artists when creating these roles?

Britton responded by describing a very coincidental incident that happened to her recently. “I ran into Reba McEntire on a plane and she said to me, ‘Did you hear that they're saying that you're playing my character,  uh, me - in your show?"  And I said, ‘No.  I had no idea.’ I think for me, at least, it's sort of an amalgam of a lot of different people. I think it's really fun to take from that sort of palette and then just really let this lone character emerge.  So I don't really have any one person that I'm basing the character on.”

Panettiere talked about her being compared to the ubiquitous Swift, “Of course, I've heard the Taylor Swift thing quite a bit. And I think aside from being around the same age and blonde, not even height, I mean, we’re very different, very different.  And I think you guys, once you see her and get to know Juliette, my character, a little bit better, you'll see that.  But I really think Taylor would disagree wholeheartedly as well.” She added, with a laugh, “She's much nicer than my character.”
Nashville Cast
So how much music will there really be in this show? Khouri explained, “A few songs at least in each episode. Music is the texture of the show, I mean, in the same way as you see in the pilot. There will probably be fewer songs sung in an episode, but it's the air that these characters breathe, so it's always there.”

She added, “When I lived in Nashville, one of the things that used to really blow me away about the place was, you would be in a restaurant and somebody would take the plates from your table one night, and then the next day, or the next night, you would go into a club and there they were, and they would just break your heart. They would be so good, you couldn't believe that that's what they were doing. You couldn't believe that they weren't the biggest artist in the world, you know. There's just so much talent in this town. And so we carefully looked for the people that we felt were representative of what you were likely to find here.”

Panettiere added,  “I think one of the intriguing things about this is, you get the comment all the time, ‘well, what if you don't like country music?’ And one thing I think we've all learned is, being especially down in Nashville and working with such talented singers and songwriters, you realize how broad the term country music is.  You don't have to be a fan of country music. There's soul and there's blues and there's bluegrass and, it really is a wide variety. It's "American" music, exactly.  And I think people will come to find that they like this kind of music.”

We asked if the girls had anything else to add. Panettiere concluded, laughing “Oh, gosh.  If you have a broken heart, you're sad, you need a rebound, remember Juliette is prowling somewhere around the corner… for hire."

Khouri added, also laughing, “That's it in a nutshell.”

Don’t miss the premiere of Nashville on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 10/9c on ABC. You never know WHO you’re going to see!!!

 

 

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 139 - September 0473
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