It's been a long road for Nashville, first on ABC and then CMT, and now the country music drama is gearing up for its sixth and final season.

The tumultuous Season 5 finale saw Gunnar (Sam Palladio) and Scarlett (Clare Bowen) call it quits — possibly for good — and Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) publicly admitting to stealing Maddie's (Lennon Stella) song. Not to mention, we got kind of a near miss between Deacon (Charles Esten) and Jessie's (Kaitlin Doubleday) will they, won't they no-mance.

TV Guide spoke to Nashville executive producer Marshall Herskovitz about how it's felt to start wrapping up these characters' stories and what to expect from their final journeys in Season 6. Plus, what are the chances Connie Britton will show up for one last hurrah?

Did you guys know going into Season 6 that it would be the last?
Marshall Herskovitz: No, we didn't know. But we had a strong suspicion because you know how the TV business works now. Everyone had a six-year contract and so, we knew it would be a very heavy lift to get to a seventh season. We thought it was possible, but we didn't know for sure. We actually found out probably about a week before it was announced that the show was going to end. But that gave us time to work out the end of the season so that we could really have a good finale for the series.

This year in particular, we're having really a lot of fun. It's funny, there's a bittersweet quality to it because everyone knows it's the end but I think at the same time, it has in some way galvanized everyone. It's like, "Okay, if this is our last year, let's make it great." And I think everyone feels that.

And have you guys had these characters' final destinations in mind for a while now, or were there some big decisions to make about happy endings, finales, etc.?
Herskovitz: I mean, the thing is ... in my career, almost everything I've done has been in some sense improvisational. I don't mean on the set. I mean in terms of creating story. We fall in love with a character, we fall in love with a relationship, a storyline. That sort of thing. So I think we certainly did not have in our heads some grand master plan for where this series was going to end up. I think what we wanted to do was do justice to each of the characters and to the journeys they've been on for the past six years. And give the audience some feeling of satisfaction that there was a reason why they watched these people go through these twists and turns and difficulties and triumphs and all of it, and to feel satisfied moving on.

Juliette was looking kind of manic in the trailer for this season. What can you preview about where she's at mentally and emotionally in the premiere?
Herskovitz: Yes, well. I think it all grows out of what we saw happen to her last year, which is that although she did very well in the first half of the season in terms of pulling herself together, the old demons started to come back. She stole that song and that just caused a huge rupture in her personal relationships and in her career. I think we're seeing her now sort of reverberating from that terrible mistake that she made and really understanding that the demons that have pushed her all these years, the early trauma, the difficulties in her life are still there. That's setting up what we want to deal with this year with her character.

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Do you think there's any room for Maddie and Juliette to ever mend the fence or has that friendship been through too much at this point?
Herskovitz: You know, I never say never. Beyond that, I won't say anything... That would be telling.

What can you tease about Deacon's storyline this year? Both personally and professionally.
H
erskovitz: Well, he's got a great storyline this year. We're very excited about Deacon's storyline. You know, obviously people have seen from the trailers that Jessie is back, but I'm not going to say what that means. You know, clearly they had a very complicated relationship, and I think the whole idea of Deacon starting over and trying to find love again after Rayna (Connie Britton) is just a huge mountain to climb for him. We played that all the second half of last season, and I think that struggle will continue. But certainly, there will be changes, let's just put it that way.

And in terms of his career, I think I felt when I came on the show, we all felt that in some way Deacon as a performer has been in Rayna's shadow for too long and that we love the idea of seeing Deacon moving out into the world on his own as a star or as a beloved performer on his own. And that's something we are following as a storyline.

Maddie has a new love interest this year, which is exciting. Tell us a little about him and where that flirtation is headed in this season.
Herskovitz: It's clear in the trailers that she meets somebody who's already a star and so that sets up the idea of what it's like to live in this fishbowl of celebrity relationships, which we see around us all the time. And what Maddie is gonna learn from that, what difficulties come from it, it's a whole interesting set of challenges for her.

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Scarlett and Gunnar are trying to figure out their lives apart, not just romantically but musically, so what do their paths look like this year?
Herskovitz: Oh boy. I'm real excited about both of them, and I don't want to say too much before the premiere. You know, I think Gunnar... I don't even remember what's been in the trailers, but I think there's some indication that there are at least some new combinations of people singing together on the show. And all I can say is there is so much fun in that storyline. I think people are gonna be really excited about it.

I think for Scarlett, she's on a really interesting journey this year, which gets me to the fact that there are at least three new characters we are introducing this year, each of whom I love. Each of whom is musically incredibly talented. I mean, the actors playing the characters. And we're very excited to have new musical talent on the show in relationship to our characters... I think watching Scarlett deal with what life is like post-Gunnar, but also remember it was Gunnar that got her to sing in the first place. So the whole idea of seeing herself as a singer came from Gunnar, so that's something she's questioning as well.

Can we expect to see Connie Britton make one last appearance this season, be it in a dream sequence or a flashback?
Herskovitz: The honest answer to that is there is no answer... I just don't know. I suppose it's possible it could happen, but I wouldn't count on it. I just don't think it's really been explored. In other words, anything I say will lead people to speculate in one direction or another. And I would say that, at this moment, there's nothing to speculate about.

Nashville premieres Thursday, Jan. 4th at 9/8c on CMT.

Lennon Stella, <em>Nashville</em>Lennon Stella, Nashville