Nashville creator and executive producer Callie Khouri wants people to know that you don't have to love (or even like) country music to enjoy her new show — but you might fall in love with the show's original tunes anyway.
"It's far from a show just about country music," Khouri, who won a screenplay Oscar for writing Thelma and Louise, tells TVGuide.com. "It has characters that are real, they're layered, they're complicated, they're terrible, they're fantastic, they're all the things that people are."
The ABC series stars Friday Night Lights favorite Connie Britton and Heroes alum Hayden Panettiere as two successful country music singers on the opposite ends of the spotlight spectrum. Britton plays Rayna James, an icon in her industry who suddenly finds herself unable to sell out concert tours and at the risk of being dropped by her label. Panettiere is Juliette Barnes, a rising superstar with the sex appeal and confidence to get anything she wants. From the start of the premiere episode, Juliette and Rayna's paths cross when their label wants Rayna to open for Juliette on tour. Juliette, ever the diva, takes the opportunity to try to poach Rayna's talented crew.
While it's easy to root for Rayna from the get-go, what will make viewers remotely want to side with Juliette? Khouri says it won't be long before we learn enough about the sassy diva to want her to succeed as well. "I love to start characters in a place where you think you know them," Khouri says. "We can make all kinds of assumptions about them and think they have no redeeming qualities, but like everyone, they're complex. Juliette will always be immature, for the time being, and she disappoints as much as she's disappointed, but yes, you'll find there are ways to root for her. She has it in her to be a sweet person, but she didn't have much of the need or opportunity to be that person growing up. "
For Rayna, life isn't so picturesque either. She has a seemingly happy marriage to husband Teddy (Eric Close) and two adorable kids, but she also holds on to feelings for long-ago love and current bandmate Deacon (Charles Esten). "Rayna and Deacon will cycle in and out of each other's lives for the life of the series, I hope," Khouri says. And matters are made worse when Teddy decides to run for office at the behest of Rayna's domineering father Lamar (Powers Booth). "When Rayna's mother died, the family splintered and [Lamar] is an old-school, wealthy, Southern male who really thinks his daughter should be doing something a little more respectable," Khouri says. "He didn't abandon her and her sister technically, but he was gone all the time and things weren't good between them."
That drama will play out with the Music City — and its music -- as a rich backdrop. "[Nashville] is its own entity and a place I have a great amount of love for," Khouri says. "I feel like if you're not here, then you don't capture the feeling of it. Also: One of the reasons I wanted to do a show about Nashville in Nashville was because when I lived here, the hardest thing to go out and hear was country music. Country was taking place inside the studio and it was an export. Now you can hear it here a lot more, but there's so much more here than country music and you're going to hear all of it. [At the end of the day], if you watch the show, you're going to have a good time and hear some great music."
Nashville premieres on Wednesday at 10/9c on ABC.
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Watch Rayna and Juliette's first meeting here: