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Thanks to a unique deal, Hulu will retain streaming rights and CMT will be the new on-air home for the country music drama. The stars of the series, led by Charles Esten (Deacon) with CMT host Cody Alan, will celebrate the news with a concert in Nashville later Friday.
Viacom-owned CMT will air 22 new episodes of the drama starring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere, while Hulu will retain stacking rights. The multiple-outlet deal to revive the drama comes after ABC canceled the Lionsgate Television-produced series, with the streaming platform already having streaming rights to original episodes. Hulu will retain streaming rights, scoring new episodes the day after they air on CMT. Lionsgate TV Group president Sandra Stern negotiated the deal alongside Viacom’s Sarah Levy.
Sources tell THR that stacking rights was the central issue in making a deal to revive the pricey drama for a fifth season. Under the multiple avenues considered, CMT was always set to have first-run episodes.
CMT and Hulu were among the multiple rumored potential homes for Nashville as producers Lionsgate Television remained steadfast in their pursuit of a fifth season after ABC canceled the drama in May. Lionsgate refused to accept that fate and opted to go with a massive cliffhanger in its season finale (billed as a series finale) involving Panettiere’s Juliette Barnes. Her character’s fate 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.
For Lionsgate’s part, the independent studio actively started shopping Nashville 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 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. (The cast all still have long-term deals to remain with the series as Lionsgate was adamant about securing a full 22-episode renewal. A CMT episode count remains unclear.)
“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 the day after the ABC finale. “If we didn’t feel that was going to happen, we might have gone a different way.”
ABC’s decision to cancel the series was among the biggest upfront shockers. Lionsgate signed Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick (My So-Called Life, thirtysomething) to a sizable overall deal that included taking over for Dee 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.
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 the ABC conclusion was the one that 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.”
“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 their recent earnings call.
For CMT, Nashville will now anchor a rapidly growing scripted roster as the Viacom-owned cable network becomes the latest to enter the Peak TV fray. CMT has Billy Ray Cyrus starrer scripted comedy Still the King in the works as well as Million Dollar Quartet, an eight-episode limited drama.
Nashville becomes the latest scripted series to jump from one network to another, though it’s increasingly challenging for dramas to do so. Other recent network jumpers include Supergirl (CBS to corporate sibling The CW); The Mindy Project (Fox to Hulu), Community (NBC to Yahoo), Longmire (A&E to Netflix); Cougar Town (ABC to TBS); and Damages (FX to DirecTV), among others.
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