Cutler’s story explains a lot about why the pilot of “Nashville,” a drama about the unique and cutthroat culture of Music City, immediately stands out among the other musical shows in primetime — even if it comes down to the wire, no one on the show will settle for simply “good enough.” With Khouri’s husband, famed record producer T-Bone Burnett, signed on as executive music producer, the show is infused with a gripping authenticity that can only come from people with intense passion for the music world. As a result, “Nashville,” premiering in October, is poised as the best chance for a breakout hit among this year’s new fall shows.
ABC is marketing the series as a battle between old and new, and maybe that is the sexier spin. Connie Britton stars as Rayna Jaymes, an adored country music legend whose iron grip on the charts is starting to loosen after several decades. That’s thanks to 20-something country-pop crossover sensations like Juliette Barnes, played by Hayden Panettiere, who has a sweet smile but boasts a nasty streak. The new president of their record label comes up with a great idea: Send Rayna and Juliette on tour together, with Rayna as the opener. Thus sets up a familiar “All About Eve” scenario, which both Britton and Panettiere delight in playing.
While the Rayna versus Juliette story is the main plot driving the pilot, the show itself provides an additional hook through an incredibly detailed portrayal of the music scene, one that goes beyond country music — which is what most people think of when they hear “Nashville.” Khouri, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Thelma & Louise,” lived in Nashville, and has a deep appreciation for the city’s one-of-a-kind music culture.
“We’ve seen a lot of caricatures of Nashville, but we’ve never really seen the actual place as it is,” Khouri said. “People think of country music because that’s the product that’s exported from there. But there’s actually a wide range of music and incredibly talented musicians of every description. . . . It’s a very unique city with a lot of different layers.”
Khouri wants to shed light on that impossible-to-describe Nashville experience, like when you hear a song a thousand times on the radio, and then hear it performed at a small club by the songwriter. Or when you go to dinner one night, and the next night see your waitress sing a mind-blowing set. Powers Boothe — who plays Rayna’s evil business tycoon father on the show — was moved to tears when a group went to the Bluebird Café, Khouri recalled, and he heard an old Conway Twitty track performed by the original songwriter.