Nashville is changing its tune. After ABC canceled the country music-based show in May, the series found a home at CMT, with new showrunners in thirtysomething series creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick. EW has the exclusive first interview with the duo for details on the season 5 premiere — including what’s to come of Juliette.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What drew you to Nashville?
MARSHALL HERSKOVITZ: We saw this amazing cast and characters that had the bones of great relationships. There was an approach the show had taken over the years — where it’s really based on a lot of incidents, where this happens and that happens and this person sleeps with that person— that’s just not the way we do things. It’s not a value judgment. That’s not something we know how to do. There was a feeling that the show had run its course and that it needed, in some sense, a reboot to find its heart again. We were up for that because it meant going deeper with the characters, trying to do less story in each episode, and putting even more emphasis on the music.
ED ZWICK: At the very beginning of thirtysomething a thousand years ago, we were some of the first to really partake of some of the music of our time and let that dovetail with the emotion of the storytelling. This was an opportunity to do some of that in a different way and talk about its creation as well as its resonance.
How much is the business side of the music business going to play into your stories?
HERSKOVITZ: It’s there. It’s actually a fairly big story line.
ZWICK: [Creator] Callie [Khouri] is still with the show and it was Callie and T Bone [Burnett] and their life in Nashville that really animated that part of it. Coincidentally, my life has involved me with the music business a lot just through friends and through putting music in movies, so I know enough to be dangerous, but Callie has lived it and so has T Bone, so that world is very accessible.
HERSKOVITZ: We did a boot camp in Nashville that Callie set up for us where we met some important people in the business and got a sense of what those rooms are like and what they talk about. When we did thirtysomething, we set it in an advertising agency and we knew nothing about advertising when we started, but we had to learn. For those of us who are not experts on the music business, we’re learning real fast.
How has the move to CMT affected things?
HERSKOVITZ: Honestly I’m happy about it. What I feel is that when you’re on a big network like ABC, they have their own corporate strategy and there are going to be pressures on you to have your show conform to what they need in their totality of their schedule.
ZWICK: I don’t have any basis on which to say this in terms of personal knowledge, but I can only suspect that some of the emphasis on narrative thrust and melodrama and cliffhangers probably had something to do with the fact that it was on ABC.
HERSKOVITZ: That is what has propelled ABC to great success in recent years. They do great with it. It’s just not something we know how to do, that’s all. So CMT has given us tremendous creative freedom. I feel like we have an opportunity to allow the show to be what it wants to be as opposed to having anything imposed on it from above.
When you look at the show, what does it want to be?
HERSKOVITZ: It actually wants to be very intimate. These people have a reservoir of emotion and connection with each other that goes very deep, and what we find is that these first few new episodes that we’ve done are very, very emotional. It’s been there embedded in the episodes, you could see it, but it wasn’t allowed to come to fruition before and by allowing the show to have longer scenes where you can play out the emotions between people and where you have fewer stories per episode, you can go deeper in a story and really have something profound happen between two people.
ZWICK: Nashville itself is one of the last, if not the last artist colony in America. Nashville has a remarkable group of people who support each other, write together, go to each other’s shows. The intimacy of those connections was striking.
Were you excited about any characters in particular?
HERSKOVITZ: Certainly Deacon and Rayna as a relationship. The idea of what it means to be married has always been interesting to us — what are the dynamics, their individual triggers, how do they resolve conflict? It’s endlessly fascinating to talk about two adults trying to be in a relationship to each other, so that’s been really fun for us and for the actors to go deeper in that way. It’s been rejuvenating.
ZWICK: Avery came [to Nashville] with a very strong dream of who he wanted to be. We said, there’s an opportunity for someone to try to rededicate himself to that or at least be aware of how much he might’ve lost it. And I think we can talk about Juliette…
HERSKOVITZ: We can tell you she’s alive.
ZWICK: I think the direction we take will be surprising.
HERSKOVITZ: She finds her life very different now from what it ever was before. That cliffhanger affects other people in the story — when something like that happens, it’s a big event for everybody. There are ripples that go out from this event that affect other people in the show. It’s a pretty great story.
How do you balance the stories with such a large cast?
ZWICK: We have narrowed our focus a little bit. We introduce new characters but I don’t think we’re trying to serve everyone in every episode.
HERSKOVITZ: The only way we could do the show we wanted was to say we’re not going to serve every story or character in every episode. That buys us the time to go deeper with each character when we do serve their story. And there are people we love who we just didn’t have room for in the narrative. For example, Will Chase who plays Luke Wheeler is incredibly talented, but from a story standpoint, we didn’t know what to do with his character. We had to make decisions about who we could tell ongoing stories about and who we couldn’t. We just brought him back in the last episode we shot and we were very happy because we love him, but we had to make choices about which characters we were going to follow.
Did you make any other major changes?
HERSKOVITZ: It was very important to us to bring in more diversity of music and of human beings. We have two new cast members who we love who I think people will love, and we’re also excited about the idea of different kinds of music. There’s an opportunity to broaden the palette, and that’s been really exciting.
Nashville season 5 premieres Thursday, Jan. 5 on CMT, with new episodes hitting Hulu, where fans can currently catch up on the entire series, the next day.