'Nashville' Insider: Pawns in the Publicity Game

Nashville Hayden Panetierre Private Plave - H 2012
Getty Images

Nashville Hayden Panetierre Private Plave - H 2012

For Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), resident troubled country hottie on ABC’s primetime soap Nashville, damage control means a trip to the zoo.

What did she do that was so bad it warranted posing with an endangered species? First, there was that cheap nail polish she lifted knowing she was being recorded on a cell phone. Big stars behaving badly? The clip goes instantly viral! Then, came the planned moment of redemption: The publicist books Good Morning America to address the problem and invite compassion, only instead of Juliette keeping her cool, she blows up at cohost Robin Roberts, then storms off camera, plummeting into the realm of a Mindy McCready or Lindsay Lohan -- girls gone wild for all the wrong reasons.

In three moves, the flack’s work has gone exponential. Sponsors pull out, ticket sales stall and the tour cancels. Time for the PR Olympics. To make a bad girl look good requires major, not to mention humbling, moves.

When in doubt, the first rule of publicity is: deflect. Your client says something stupid to Playboy, talk about anything except what was said. Tour plans, new singles, exotic video shoots, even, well, choirboys and baby animals. And so the solution for Juliette’s image problem is a distraction: a love interest in the form of a football player.

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“I don’t see how going to dinner with him is going to help my career,” Juliette whines in the kitchen of the house she’s just rented to get away from her junkie mother.

“Like stealing nail polish did?” shoots the publicist. She knows a high-profile, squeaky clean athlete is a media catnip. Look at Lorrie Morgan’s dalliance with Troy Aikman, (or Tanya Tucker’s, for that matter), Carrie Underwood’s fling with Tony Romo or her eventual marriage to hockey player Mike Fisher. This is a courtship trope as old as the NFL.

Jabbing at the non-drinking, well-mannered player and goading him with “You know this is just a set-up,” the date seems non-starter enough, until Juliette announces, “Let’s go,” loading up her Lear jet for South Beach.

Slipping out the back door of a hot club, a paparazzo recognizes the country star in the glittertastic bustier and shoots away. Juliette ducks behind the football player, shouting to the jock, “Don’t look.” A few insults get hurled and naturally, the good guy tosses the photographer to the ground. Yet another triage attempt gone south.

Cut to an alley, an SUV and the publicist saying, “Are you sure about this?”

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A veteran of the PR wars even at her young age, Juliette knows the price of staying out of the public eye. Without batting a lash, she tells the photographer that she’s buying those pictures and will throw in the “first call on the next 10 times I’m going out” gratis, virtually guaranteeing an exclusive on the images and raising the value of this sale exponentially.

“You’re not even in the pictures,” marvels the shutterbug, referring to the pre-shove shots of her football squire.

“Then you’re really getting the better end of the deal,” she announces -- all business.

And that’s…  how it’s done. Kick up dust, ride controversy if that’s your thing for more persona; but in the squeaky clean worlds of Caucasian sports stars and country singers, acting out and acting up can be franchise damaging.

For Juliette, who can’t seem to keep it between PG-13 parameters, this is very controlled behavior. Ironic, though, how it takes setting someone else’s reputation straight for her to get serious.

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In today’s ever more difficult to satiate world of curiosity -- particularly who’s dating whom? -- bold faced plus bold faced equals exponential visibility. Think: Nicole Kidman, John Mayer, a Kennedy or Melissa Rivers. Right up until it gets messy. Annulment, anyone?

Keeping the lid on, sometimes, is the best way to show you care.

When the football player turns up at Juliette’s door, he tells her “I’ve never had anyone pay $25,000 for pictures of me before” and she shoots back, “I’ve never had anyone stand up to the paparazzi for me before…”

And the worst part is, the girl who’s slept with both Rayna James’ (Connie Britton) producer and her former lover/band leader Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten) is in a place where she can’t even exploit this potential new boyfriend. She’s savvy enough to know: if you wanna keep’em, don’t use’em for the spotlight. It’s just too tough to maintain.

As for the good folks spinning for Nashville, they may want to fire up a scandal or two, an on-set romance, something to churn the show’s pitched storylines in real life. Create that tension off-camera. Make an impact on the music-loving public beyond selling them downloads. A good soap lives or dies by the dedication of its fanbase. Don’t lose us now, Nashville. Give us a hook.

Twitter: @THRMusic