'Nashville' Boss on Unexpected Death: We Wanted to Send Him out in Grand Fashion

"His absence will have the biggest ripple effect on the lives of Luke, Layla, Juliette and Avery," showrunner Dee Johnson tells THR about the impact of Jeff's demise.
Courtesy of ABC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday's episode of Nashville, "Please Help Me I'm Fallin'."]

Nashville fans are singing the blues after love-to-hate-him villain Jeff Fordham (Oliver Hudson) met a tragic — and jaw-dropping — demise on Wednesday's episode of the ABC drama. When he found Juliette on the roof of their hotel, Jeff tried to convince her not to jump despite her ongoing issues with her estranged husband and daughter. However, he lost his balance pulling her away from the ledge and plummeted to his death trying — for once — to do the right thing.

It was a bizarre ending for a character that served as an antagonist for so many of the show's central characters. However, it was his rollercoaster of a romance with Layla (Aubrey Peeples) that showed Jeff's softer side for the last season and gave his character some closure, as the two decided to move in together.

This is hardly Nashville's first death (see: Juliette's mom, Gunnar's brother, Teddy's second wife, Rayna's dad, Deacon's sister) but it was one of the show's most unexpected. In the wake of the surprising events, The Hollywood Reporter interviewed showrunner Dee Johnson via email to find out the reasoning behind Jeff's departure and what's next.

How and when did you come to the decision to kill Jeff?

By the end of last season, we knew we were likely headed in this direction.

Why did you decide to kill him and make it such a final goodbye as opposed to an exit like Teddy’s where there's the opportunity for him to return occasionally?

We'd always wanted to send Jeff out in grand fashion.

How much did the fact that Oliver had another series regular role factor into the decision?

His being a Scream Queens regular definitely limited his ability to appear on Nashville.  

In his final hours, Jeff and Layla were finally on equal footing and moving forward in their relationship. And Jeff also got that great new job. Why was it important to give him that closure and that happy ending?

We wanted Jeff to be on the precipice of having it all, and we wanted him to have fundamentally changed because we wanted him to make a choice that would lead to his own demise.

For such a villainous character, Jeff died a very noble death. How did you decide on how he would die?

It was important to dramatize the extent of his character growth — Jeff had gone from having contempt for all things Juliette to caring enough about her as a human being to go check on her — even though he was no longer obligated to do so.

Jeff was such a great villain and a love-to-hate character on the show. How concerned are you about filling that void? Is there someone you see as Jeff’s successor, so to speak?

Jeff was definitely a lot of fun to write, but the beauty of television is that all characters evolve, or devolve, as the case may be.

Obviously, this is going to be a huge loss for Layla. How will she cope with Jeff’s death?

Layla will be lost for a time, but she finds her way back with support from unexpected sources.

So much of Layla's storyline was intertwined with Jeff's. How will her character change and evolve as she becomes more independent?

Layla’s been through so much, she’ll either collapse under the weight of it, or be made stronger — and more single-minded — about what she wants out of life.

The promos for next week show Jeff's death being presented as a suicide. How much of an emotional toll will that lie take on Juliette?

Juliette was a wasted mess when Jeff fell, so she doesn’t remember a thing … until she does. Her realization about what really happened is a wakeup call of the highest order.

What's next for her after her near-suicide? How much further down can she spiral?

Juliette is nothing if not a phoenix.

How will his death affect the rest of the ensemble?

Jeff had made his way into the lives of several characters both professionally and personally. His absence will have the biggest ripple effect on the lives of Luke, Layla, Juliette and Avery.

The show has to adapt to Hayden Panettiere’s medical leave. What can you say specifically about what kind of adjustments the show will be making to accommodate that? What made you confident that the show could continue without one of its lead stars for several episodes?

The show has had to jump through some hoops, but we’ve done it before and it probably won’t be the last time. Real life is always a factor in planning a full network season order. Hayden is a huge player for us and she may be out for a bit, but fortunately we are blessed with a terrific ensemble cast.

Watch Jeff's shocking death:

Nashville airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.