Nashville Season 5: it ain’t the same old tune
Swan songs, nailbiters and tearjerkers onscreen and behind the scenes thanks to Nashville’s brush with death.
Like a true country music classic, Nashville (2012-2018, Seasons 1-5 can be streamed on Showmax) is always full of drama. And at the end of Season 4, death loomed – both onscreen and behind the scenes.
A month after filming ended on Season 4 in April 2016, US broadcaster ABC officially cancelled the show. The decision came as a shock as Nashville’s production company Lionsgate had already tapped Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick to take over as showrunners for the fifth season. But Lionsgate had a trick up their sleeves…
Choose your own adventure
The Nashville team filmed two versions of the Season 4 finale.
In one, bad-girl country diva Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) skips the Oscars to fly home to her ex-husband and daughter. “I arrive at the airport and Avery (Jonathan Jackson) is standing there with Cadence (Andi Rayne and Nora Gill), the violins play and I run into his arms,” revealed Hayden.
In the other version, Avery is waiting for Juliette at the airport when he’s told that the flight has sent out a distress signal and has fallen off the radar. Lionsgate chose to send through the missing flight cliffhanger version for broadcast. And on 26 May 2016 as they launched their campaign to find Nashville a new home, Lionsgate tweeted: “#Nashies What a cliffhanger! But we won’t leave you hanging. There’s more story to be told. #BringBackNashville.”
Lionsgate TV chairman Kevin Beggs said, “If we didn’t feel that was going to happen, we might have gone a different way. 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. There are more stories to tell.”
And as it happened, he was right, with the CMT (Country Music Television) channel snapping up Nashville.
Season 5 would begin with Juliette – like Nashville – surviving her brush with death. But Death will not be denied. While his icy hand has passed over Juliette, the behind-the-scenes drama is partly responsible for the show losing its biggest star, who exits part-way through the season.
Goodbye, Rayna James
Connie Britton, who plays country star and music producer Rayna James, reveals that “there was a lot of back and forth over the summer if the show was picked up or wasn’t picked up… it really felt like we would be in a good place and this would be the time to start talking about Rayna’s departure. Money was not a factor. I think [the length of time] had something to do with it. As actors, we always want to keep challenging ourselves. Let me just say there were a lot of reasons. Some of them were personal and some were creative.”
Marshall adds, “She felt that creatively, she wanted to move on from the show, and she was very torn because she loved the show. She loved the people on the show and it was like a family. It wasn’t about money. It was a creative need on her part to face new challenges, which I completely understand and respect.”
With those two huge moments in their laps, series creator Callie Khouri, and Marshall and Kevin had delicate work ahead of them in creating the new Nashville season. How they play out onscreen will truly be surprising, shocking and worth watching.
The long goodbye
Marshall reveals that writing Rayna out of the show was no easy matter.
“We spent about a week trying to figure out a way for the character to leave the show and still be alive, but there’s just no way to do it. Rayna would never not be in contact with Deacon and the children unless she were being held by the Taliban or a scenario so absurd nobody would believe. She couldn’t just be on tour. We realised – as sad and painful as it was – that there was only one answer: The character had to die.”
And when death comes, it won’t be in a way that viewers are expecting.
“The random surprise, the way death can just come out of nowhere, that’s the hard thing to deal with. It’s just something about that that appealed to all of us in the room, not seeing it coming, having a setup for thinking it was going to be one thing, having the relief of having gotten away with your life and then something else completely unconnected happened,” hints Callie.
Callie directed Rayna’s death scene herself and reveals, “On the day we shot her final scene, I took a picture of the trash can – one of those huge trash cans – literally overflowing with Kleenex. All of us were complete basket cases, not just the actors but the whole crew. We were really, really super sad. We wanted her to have a great and emotional exit from the show, which she really did.”
Rayna’s daughters sing to her as she’s dying and Connie adds, “We could not get through it. Those blessed girls – who I love with every ounce of my being – they could not get through the song. I don’t know how many takes we did where they couldn’t sing more than three words of the song [at least 19 takes]. It took a while. I’m laying there, supposedly dying, and I had tears pouring down my cheeks. It was a very tough week.”
Equally dramatic was the season opener, with Juliette becoming the sole survivor of the plane crash.
“It opens a door for her, and she discovers this part of herself that is completely undiscovered… Something awakens inside of her that was never there before, that is so un-Juliette.”
“From a dramatic standpoint, there was a lot of great stuff to work with. This was really rich with potential — not just for Juliette, but for Avery and other people in the show. I actually saw the plane crash as a gift,” admits Marshall. “We’ve watched this woman go through hell and we’ve watched her descend into hell. Now she’s gone through a literal hell with this plane crash and I think that would have a profound effect on anybody. For us as dramatists, the opportunity that I was talking about was to watch what happens to a human being who has to live through that. That’s gold, dramatically speaking. Juliette is definitely on a journey and we’re going to see real changes in her life.”
Hayden adds, “The direction she chooses to go in, I was shocked. And I think the audience will be too. It opens a door for her, and she discovers this part of herself that is completely undiscovered… Something awakens inside of her that was never there before, that is so un-Juliette.”