'Nashville' Creator Stands By Divisive Finale, Previews Season Two

Nashville Season 2 Cast Art - H 2013

Nashville Season 2 Cast Art - H 2013

"We wanted to take all the cards and throw them up in the air."

That's how Nashville creator Callie Khouri describes last May's freshman season finale for her ABC country music drama. Not only did she toss the cards up in the air, but the series completely shuffled the deck going into season two, which will pick up the minute Rayna (Connie Britton) and Deacon (Charles Esten) were involved in a serious car crash that will find the country music superstar on life support.

The crash, of course, was the centerpiece of the divisive finale that was brought on after Deacon learned that he actually fathered Rayna's eldest daughter, prompting the typical good-guy to go on a wicked bender, breaking his years of sobriety and crushing their rekindled romance in the process.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Khouri to discuss the lessons she learned during season one (less politics, more mood swings for Hayden Panettiere's Juliette), finding the balance between music and soap and what ever happened to that rumored concert tour featuring the cast.

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The Hollywood Reporter: What were the most valuable lessons you learned in season one?
Callie Khouri: I'd never done television so just getting used to the pace was a big shock (laughs). Figuring out who our characters really were -- so much is revealed about your show in the first season. I learned with Hayden that we could make a character like Juliette Barnes who would be the worst person in the world in one minute then turn around and totally break your heart the next. That became a really fun thing to do; figuring out how we were going to put her in these situations. We were going to bring out the worst in her and also make you feel, "Oh, my god, this poor kid." We found that people weren't really that interested in the political side of Nashville, so we moved away from some of that, which to me is a little bit disappointing only because I personally am interested in those stories. We also found that doing five songs an episode was too much. A lot of the music ended up not getting its day in the sun just because there was so much of it. We've tried to keep it more on purpose this year -- and not just have five to six songs in each episode -- but make them really count.

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done anything differently?
That's a tough question. I feel like I learned what I needed to learn. This season is going a lot more smoothly for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we know what the episodes will bear and how much we can pack into each one and what our pace will be. I don't know what I could say that I could have done differently, but I did learn a lot.

The show became a lot more soapy as it evolved through season one. How much of that came from ABC?
ABC definitely has made its name doing that. They encourage it as much as they possibly can, let me put it that way. We try to walk the line of giving them what they want, yet still having storylines that are based on a hard reality of how the business works and who the characters are. We don't have them just mustache twirling with evil divas and stuff like that. The problems between Rayna and Juliette are still fundamental because they have very different philosophies about what they do and how they do it. They're both wrestling with external pressures from the business. It's not like that kind of stupid, "She looked at me funny, let's beat her up" kind of thing. They're in an extremely competitive business that uses artists, disposable as Kleenex. They're two women showing what it's like in very different times in their career.

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The finale was very divisive. Any regrets?
Nope. We're at peace with it. We wanted to take all the cards and throw them up in the air. We always felt that the nature of Deacon and Rayna's relationship has this inevitable tragic edge to it. If they were to get together, the universe would quickly put them back in their place, which is: It's not meant to be. In the pilot, we had all this hope that there'd be a way for them to end up together, but it's just going to be a way more complicated thing than, "We can make this work." That's never been how it was for them and it's certainly not going to be this season.

Will we see them try again as a couple?
Their feelings for each other are set in stone, but the reality of their lives makes it much more complicated than that. They bring out the best and worst in each other.

There was a lot of buzz about a Nashville concert tour. Where does that stand?
We talked about it, but the truth is, with our shooting schedule, there'd only be a month when they'd be free to pursue such a thing and they all have families. So picking up and going on the road for a tour -- which is the only thing I can think of that might be harder than what we're having them do -- I'm not sure that's something we could get them to do.

Nashville is among the ABC shows set to air split runs. How are you approaching that? Will there be two separate arcs or one big one?
Both. There's one giant arc throughout, but within that, there will be another. One of the things we struggled with last year was just how intermittent our episodes aired. We got a lot of complaints from fans that they just would go to watch and it wouldn’t be on. It makes it hard to build an audience when people just don’t know if it’s going to be on.

What can fans expect from season two?
We start right were we left off. They have to put their lives back together. We left everybody in a ditch -- let's see who crawls out. There was a lot of discussion about whether we would move forward in time, but then we thought that watching everybody from where we left off seemed like it would be a lot more fun, rather than just having to skip ahead and let all the repercussions be a thing of the past. You’ll literally see people start from zero.

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Was there ever talk of Connie not coming back?
There was never any talk about if she would come back. It's hard for me to imagine wanting to do the show without her. That character is the reason I wanted to make the show. What we were doing was just literally putting the giant reset, trying to make the most horrible of all possible circumstances, to really bring what was wrong with their relationship to its natural conclusion. Rayna made a choice to not tell Deacon for 13 years that Maddie (new series regular Lennon Stella) was his biological offspring. Why would she make a choice? We'll learn why she made that choice and if there was any validity to it or not. There certainly was in her mind. She certainly didn't just capriciously decide, “Oh, you know what, I’m going to just marry this guy who I'm not as madly in love with.” She obviously made some super tough decisions early in her life. We’ll see why.

What characters are you most looking forward to exploring?
We have some new characters. We’re really looking forward to going further with Will (new regular Chris Carmack). We have a couple of new characters: a girl named Chaley Rose, who plays Zoey, Scarlett's (Clare Bowen) best friend from Mississippi who moved to Nashville. We have a new young artist named Layla Grant (Sharknado's Aubrey Peeples), who has come in second on a vocal competition show and is signed by Rayna and Juliette's label. She's 19, and she's a triple threat. The label has also been bought by a larger conglomerate (run by Oliver Hudson's Jeff) while Rayna was in the hospital, and she's once again part of the infrastructure that we in Hollywood are so familiar with. Trying to be something more important than a bottom line in a business that's really flailing -- all of the artists are dealing with that.

Season one's focus was the rivalry between Rayna and Juliette. Is there a similar focus in season two or is that still the central storyline?
Their rivalry is based on not so much a personal dislike but almost a philosophical difference in the way they approach what they do. It's not based on a personality clash so much as it is about who is going to be the more serious artist. That will continue. What's really happening is we see two really strong women fighting for the limited slot in a competitive business. Both having to go up against a machine that considers all artists disposable. There will be things on which they come together and which they, again, fundamentally disagree.

Lennon and Maisy were upped to regulars this season. How will we see their story evolve now that Deacon knows Maddie is his daughter?
You can imagine how difficult that would be for a kid to find out everything she thought was true is not. Whom do you trust? Why would your parent make that decision? She's at an age where she thinks she knows better. Things are much more black and white in people in their early teens than when they're making more complicated decisions later life presents us with. She has to deal with her feelings about her mom and figure out how she feels about Deacon knowing he's not just Uncle Deacon anymore. She's got her work cut out for her, plus her parents are now divorced and that's not easy in the best of circumstances. But certainly finding out that man who you thought was your biological father, and is not, is a tough go of it. She will always look to Juliette to be a friend to her, if nothing else. Juliette is someone Maddie feels a tremendous amount of affinity for: She likes her music and thinks she's great at what she does. Obviously, she's much closer to her generation than her mother is, and I think Maddie thinks Juliette is more in her wheelhouse.

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Scarlett, Gunnar (Sam Palladio) and Avery (Jonathan Jackson) are now back to being in a love triangle. How will you balance the soapy story with their aspiring careers?
All three of them are at a very different place. Scarlett is the reluctant star. All of the sudden she's on this trajectory that she never in a million years intended. She moved to Nashville to support Avery and be with him. She thought he was the artist and he, on the other hand, walked away from what, at the time, seemed like a huge break but ended up being something that felt compromised and cheapened him as an artist. He's put himself back at square one, working as a roadie. Everybody is finding their way. Gunnar, in his grief for his brother, went off and gave up his own identity for a while and was into the wrong people and ended up losing Scarlett’s trust and respect. Everybody has some place to work their way back from. Scarlett, being the type of person who she is, isn't someone who pursues the limelight and is going to struggle with the demands that having a real career makes on a person. It wasn't her dream growing up -- though making words mean something is important to her -- but being the person that everybody looks at is not. We'll definitely see her grapple with that.

What are you looking forward to seeing on Nashville's second season? Are you sticking with it? Hit the comments below with your thoughts. Nashville premieres on Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. on ABC.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
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