[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday’s ABC series finale of Nashville.]
ABC wrapped Nashville’s four-season run Wednesday with a monumental cliffhanger that left many diehard viewers and industry observers at a loss.
The fate of star Hayden Panettiere’s Juliette Barnes was left up in the air as her baby daddy Avery (Jonathan Jackson), waiting for her return at the airport, learned that her plane had gone missing. The series then cut to credits, leaving the fate of one of its leading ladies unclear as producers Lionsgate Television and ABC Studios actively shop the country music drama to other outlets following ABC’s May 12 decision to cancel the series after four seasons.
For Lionsgate’s part, the independent studio actively started shopping the Connie Britton starrer immediately and has used its Twitter feed to keep the show’s 8 million viewers posted on its efforts to find a new home. To hear Lionsgate TV chairman Kevin Beggs tell it, efforts to find a new outlet for Nashville contributed to the cliffhanger finale — despite producers having also filmed what was ultimately a happy reunion for Juliette and Avery.
“There’s a little short-term pain but ultimately long-term gain because we intend and are quite focused and are in substantive and serious conversations with multiple buyers about continuing the show on another platform,” Beggs told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday afternoon. “If we didn’t feel that was going to happen, we might have gone a different way.”
While most bubble series craft season enders that can also serve as a series finale — Nashville had done as much in the past — Beggs noted Wednesday’s conclusion was the one that exiting showrunner Dee Johnson and series creator Callie Khouri originally planned.
“The ending we ran was the ending always envisioned for this season,” said Beggs. “These things are crafted over weeks and months. In our estimation, to go with a quickly assembled too-easy wrap-up is more of a disservice to the fans who have invested four years in this great cast and these great stories. And there’s more stories to tell.”
While Beggs declined comment on any of the rumored potential homes for Nashville — Hulu, Lifetime, CMT, Bravo and E! have been mentioned, and Lionsgate is a co-owner of cable networks Epix and Pop — the executive noted that his studio’s decision to go with the cliffhanger was, indeed, by design.
“We’re not looking to write ourselves into a corner and actually wrapping up stories in a somewhat saccharine way is the worst box you can put yourself in,” he said, noting he received another incoming call from a buyer following Thursday morning’s earnings call. While Hulu would seem like a natural extension — the streaming service already has rights to all four seasons — Beggs wouldn’t rule out a Friday Night Lights-type deal where one platform gets a first window and a linear network airs it later.
ABC’s decision to cancel Nashville was seen as a shock across the industry after Lionsgate signed Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick (My So-Called Life, thirtysomething) to a sizable overall deal that included taking over for Johnson as Nashville showrunners. The well-respected duo had already set up and staffed a writers’ room for season five in what many took as a show of confidence that the bubble drama — which scores a secondary revenue window from iTunes and concert ticket sales — would be back for another cycle.
“Our job as a studio with the creative team is to give Ed and Marshall maximum flexibility — not limitation,” Beggs sais. “This is the ending that was intended. I think it’s more of a disservice to try to hastily put something together that’s not satisfying. There will be detractors, but on the whole, the notion that this show will continue has been so positively received that I have to play the long game. And the long game is about keeping this show going. We wouldn’t take such a strong position to advocate for the ending that we wanted to stick with — the original ending that was crafted by our team — if we didn’t feel good about our chances moving forward.”
While Beggs noted that talks to find Nashville a new home are happening every hour of every day, he stressed that discussions for season five include a full 22-episode order and seeing the full (and pricey) cast all returning. “We intend to continue the show with them all involved,” he stressed, calling stars Britton and Panettiere “essential.”
So then why film the happy ending scene — and what will happen with that if Nashville isn’t renewed for a fifth season at a new outlet?
“At the time, it was something we had in our hip pocket, but you never know. We weren’t thinking at that time that we would be going to any other platform,” Beggs said.
The exec said he was “absolutely” happy with the critical and fan response to the Nashville finale — including the #BringBackNashville movement on Twitter. To that end, the series topped Nielsen’s TVTwitter ratings for Wednesday, with the show garnering 106,000 tweets and #BringBackNashville ranking as the top hashtag of the night. Of those, a Canvs survey found 44 percent “loved” the finale, 13 percent thought it was “good,” 11 percent said it was “crazy,” while 11 percent either “disliked” or “hated” it.
While he’s “always worried about disappointing fans,” Beggs truly doesn’t feel that Wednesday’s episode is Nashville‘s final word. “We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it, but I honestly don’t think we’re going to be there,” he said. “I feel strongly and very positively about our prospects and chances.”
So what will come of that unaired happy ending scene between Avery and Juliette? Producing partners ABC Studios have rights to the DVD distribution deal, though Beggs said Lionsgate would make an alternate conclusion available. “I’m sure we would figure out a satisfying way for audiences to see an alternative ending — but it won’t be as good as the ending we have given them,” he said. “In a perfect world, we’d be making this show for many more seasons. Our hope and intention is to have an asset that continues to grow for many years.”
For now, syndicated repeats of Nashville can be found on music-themed network AXS TV as Beggs says he’s open to a spinoff of sorts — so long as it starts with a fifth season of the flagship.
“We love spinoffs, but it’s premature to think about that because we feel the flagship has many more miles to go,” he said. “If the right opportunity came, we would do it, but it would be in the context of continuing with this and seeing where we go down the line.”