'Nashville' Nearing Season 5 Renewal at CMT

Lionsgate Television has refused to accept ABC's cancellation as the end of the road for the country music drama series.
Mark Levine/ABC
'Nashville'

Nashville might have found a new home.

The country music drama, canceled after four seasons at ABC, is near a deal for a fifth-season rescue by Viacom-owned CMT, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

CMT was one of the rumored potential homes for Nashville — Hulu, Lifetime, Bravo and E! also had been mentioned in recent weeks as producer Lionsgate Television has remained steadfast in its pursuit of a fifth season. A formal announcement could come Wednesday during the CMT Awards. Sources tell THR the central issue is stacking rights, as CMT, Hulu and Lionsgate TV are eyeing a number of different options.

A Nashville revival also would mean a likely dual window for the drama starring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere. Hulu, which already had second-window rights to the former ABC series, had been mentioned as a potential exclusive home. Having CMT and Hulu share in the window for Nashville would make sense given the sizable price tag on the series. CMT already has syndication rights to the first three seasons of the drama. 

ABC shockingly canceled Nashville in May, but Lionsgate TV refused to accept that fate and opted to go with a massive cliffhanger in its season finale (billed as a series finale) involving Juliette Barnes (Panettiere). The character's fate was left up in the air as her baby daddy Avery (Jonathan Jackson), waiting for her return at the airport, learned that her plane had gone missing. The series then cut to credits, leaving the fate of one of its leading ladies unclear as producers Lionsgate TV and ABC Studios actively shop the drama to other outlets following ABC's May 12 decision to cancel the show after four seasons.
 
For Lionsgate's part, the independent studio actively started shopping Nashville immediately and has used its Twitter feed to keep the show's 8 million viewers posted on its efforts to find a new home. To hear Lionsgate TV chairman Kevin Beggs tell it, efforts to find a new outlet for Nashville contributed to the cliffhanger finale — despite producers having also filmed what was ultimately a happy reunion for Juliette and Avery.

"There's a little short-term pain but ultimately long-term gain because we intend and are quite focused and are in substantive and serious conversations with multiple buyers about continuing the show on another platform," Beggs told THR the day after the ABC finale. "If we didn't feel that was going to happen, we might have gone a different way."
 
ABC's decision to cancel the series was among the biggest upfront shockers. Lionsgate signed Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick (My So-Called Life, thirtysomething) to a sizable overall deal that included taking over for Dee Johnson as Nashville showrunners. The well-respected duo had already set up and staffed a writers' room for season five in what many took as a show of confidence that the bubble drama — which scores a secondary revenue window from iTunes and concert ticket sales — would be back for another cycle. Beggs also stressed that producers are looking for a full 22-episode order, with the entire cast having long-term deals to remain on board.
 
While most bubble series craft season enders that can also serve as a series finale — Nashville had done as much in the past — Beggs noted the ABC conclusion was the one that Johnson and series creator Callie Khouri originally planned. 
 
"The ending we ran was the ending always envisioned for this season," said Beggs. "These things are crafted over weeks and months. In our estimation, to go with a quickly assembled too-easy wrap-up is more of a disservice to the fans who have invested four years in this great cast and these great stories. And there's more stories to tell.

 
"We're not looking to write ourselves into a corner, and actually wrapping up stories in a somewhat saccharine way is the worst box you can put yourself in," he continued, noting that he received another incoming call from a buyer following Thursday morning's earnings call. While Hulu would seem like a natural extension — the streaming service already has rights to all four seasons — Beggs wouldn't rule out a Friday Night Lights-type deal where one platform gets a first window and a linear network airs it later.
 
Should CMT officially snag Nashville, it would come as the Viacom-owned cable network — like many other cablers in the age of "peak TV" — is making a push for original scripted fare. The cabler is looking to Billy Ray Cyrus to lead one of the projects and the other is also a music-themed drama about the rise of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and other stars.
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