'Nashville' Producers Talk Latest Departure and Season 2 Callback

Nashville Still Season 5 Episode 11 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of CMT

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's episode of CMT's Nashville, "'Til I Can Make It on My Own."]

Another one bites the dust?

After the emotional exit of series regular Connie Britton earlier this season, Nashville appeared to part ways with another fan-favorite, Rayna's (Britton) longtime manager Bucky (David Alford), in Thursday's episode.

In the wake of Rayna's death, Bucky had been struggling to figure out his next move, as well as the next move for Rayna's record company, Highway 65. The addition of Silicon Valley transplant and millionaire Zach Welles (Cameron Scoggins) didn't help matters, and when the two disagreed on how best to release Maddie's new music, Zach pushed for Bucky's departure. But instead of waiting for the ax to drop, Bucky stepped down from Highway 65, despite Deacon's (Charles Esten) best efforts to convince him to stay.

It was a sudden departure for a longtime Nashville fixture. While never a series regular, Alford had recurred in 81 episodes of the country music drama, outpacing some of the show's core castmembers

However, when speaking Thursday at a panel for the series at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas, producer and writer Jesse Zwick assured the crowd it's not goodbye just yet. "That’s not the last we'll see of Bucky," he said, which elicited clapter from the room.

Zwick also aimed to keep viewers in suspense about Zach's true motives. "We like to keep you guessing about him," he said. "He's not a pure villain. He's a complicated character, and that will keep evolving."

Filling Bucky's place at Highway 65 will be recurring guest star Rachel Bilson, who plays new chief strategy officer Alyssa Greene, a Seattle native who comes to Nashville by way of Silicon Valley.

"She brings new ideas to the label that maybe not everybody likes and maybe some do, and that will create problems," Zwick hinted. 

The arrivals of Bilson's character, as well as fellow recurring guest star Kaitlin Doubleday, follow Britton's exit from Nashville after five seasons. Britton, who was also a producer on the series, was killed off in February when her character died of complications stemming from a car accident.

"That whole episode for everyone was just an emotional trainwreck," recalled producer Geoffrey Nauffts.

Despite overwhelming negative fan reaction about her departure, Zwick — whose father Edward Zwick is co-showrunner on Nashville with Marshall Herskovitz — said the fallout has been smaller than anticipated, citing "the amount of people who tweeted at me that they would never watch the show again and then told me a week later that they were crying their eyes out. We were pleasantly surprised that people kept tuning in. It was really scary."

In addition to several strong episodes that succeeded Britton's emotional onscreen death, Zwick also gave credit to the ensemble. "Despite themselves, [viewers have] fallen in love with everyone else on the show," he said.

When speaking about how fan reaction may impact the series, the producers acknowledged "it's important to pay attention" to social media, but also said that by the time a storyline is introduced in an episode, it's already much further along in the writers room, making it difficult to backtrack completely.

"We definitely listen and we definitely see," writer Scott Saccoccio said. "It doesn’t change too much, but we listen, we know about it."

When it comes to these more divisive storylines, "it is best to lean into what those different opinions might be and not try and hide from the fact that some people might take offense and rather explore it," said Zwick. "We always knew we wanted to be as nuanced and complicated as possible and air the critiques ourselves, rather than just waiting for people to throw it at us."

The writers also spoke about another important element of Thursday's episode — the flashbacks Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) had about spending time with her father and specifically painting their house together shortly before he passed when she just a young child. The flashbacks came as Juliette tried to find her "safe place" while battling physical and emotional issues tied to her return to the stage.

Saccoccio, who wrote the episode, said he drew inspiration from a previous episode for the flashbacks.

"This stemmed from season two, episode two, where Juliette takes a CMT crew to her old trailer park and she tells a story about how they painted the house yellow," he said. "I thought back to the trailer park and I thought we see the mom so much, but we haven’t really seen the father, so I thought, why not?"

While Nashville has been known to revisit many of the characters' past traumas in different ways, particularly Juliette's battles with her now-dead mother, "this was a rare one that hadn't been explored," Zwick said. "It was a hole in Juliette's story that Scott was able to flesh out."

Juliette's larger season-five storyline, particularly her exploration into religion, is one the producers said they would have been hesitant writing about if the drama was still on ABC. The network canceled the Lionsgate drama after four seasons in 2016, and CMT and Hulu subsequently picked it up for a fifth, and soon-to-be sixth, season.

"I think we may have, in the old days on network television, shied away from the religion story with Juliette," Nauffts said. "With network television, it's a little hard to tackle."

Saccoccio also praised the move from ABC to CMT, saying, "It feels like this is where Nashville should be and should have been. I don't know of a network that matches a show so well. CMT and Nashville — you can't get much better than that." 

Nashville airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.