July 27, 2012 9:58am PT by Lesley Goldberg
TCA 2012: ABC's 'Nashville' Will Stay True to its Roots
With a sprawling cast and story, ABC's Nashville admittedly has a lot of moving parts, with music and industry dealings, family drama and politics among them.
With so much going on, producers told reporters Friday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour that the series starring Connie Britton as a down-on-her-luck country music superstar will stay true to its roots.
Executive producer R.J. Cutler told reporters that Nashville at its heart is a character-driven series. "With the music, drama, family story, music business world, political world, at the core of it is these relationships and they drive through everything," he said of the series which features music produced by T-Bone Burnett. "What we're focused on all the time is the characters."
In a time when other music-driven series like Glee and Smash are quick to trot out guest stars (think Gwyneth Paltrow, Ricky Martin, Uma Thurman andNick Jonas), Cutler noted that while he's open to country music guest stars, the series will put the focus first on its Nashville roots.
"We're focused on our cast of real country artists -- it's not a guest show; the fabric of Nashville is the fabric of our show," Cutler said. "The musicians in the pilot are real Nashville musicians who are greatly respected there and known and known by country music people there."
The ambitious pilot features both Britton and co-stars including Hayden Panettiere performing original songs, with producers noting that music will continue to be the texture of the show -- with a soundtrack in the works. (Executive producer Callie Khouri noted the details are being worked out but there's no release date yet.)
With Fox's Glee and NBC's Smash opening the doors for music-themed scripted series, Khouri (Thelma & Louise) noted the timing was right to take on a series set in the world of country music. "There's a great love of music in shows in the past few yearsand audiences are really accepting and hungry for great music," she said. "[Nashville will have] lots of original music, crossover and pop and a really wide range of music -- that helped us [get on the air]."
Britton and Panettiere acknowledged they're already hearing comparisons for their portrayal of an aging country music star and rising crossover performer, respectively. Both actors noted that they aren't basing their performances on Reba McEntire and Taylor Swift.
"I ran into Reba McEntire on a plane and she said, 'Did you hear you're playing me in your show?' I said I had no idea! For me, it's an amalgam of a lot of different people but I think it's fun to take from that sort of palate and really let this lone character emerge," Britton said. "I don't have any one person I'm basing the character on."
Britton added that she continues to be drawn to the universality of playing Southern women (Nashville's Rayna James joins Friday Night Lights' Tami Taylor on her résumé) and noted the two strong leads, while sharing that theme, will be different. "This character is actually incredibly different from Tami Taylor, even her accent is different," said Britton, who added that the role allows her to stretch her acting muscle.
"There probably won't be as many y'alls," Britton said with a laugh, acknowledging one of Tami's beloved catch phrases from Friday Night Lights.
Added Panettiere on the alleged similarities: "I've heard Taylor Swift and aside from being same age and blonde -- not even height! -- I think once you get to know Juliette a little better, you'll see that. I think Taylor would disagree, she's much nicer!"
As for Nashville's appeal to non-country music fans, former teen singer Panettiere said the drama will be help open people's minds to just how broad country music can be. "You don't have to be a fan of country music -- there's soul, blues, bluegrass -- it's America," she noted. "I think people will come to find they like this kind of music, even if you don't [traditionally] like that kind of music."
Nashville premieres Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 10 p.m. on ABC.