In less than two weeks, Nashvillewill make its official debut on CMT, with an early sneak-peek premiere of Season 5 on Dec. 15. But will it be the same show fans have come to know and love - so much so that they organized a social media campaign that led to a cable revival? The answer, according to new co-showrunner Marshall Herskovitz, is... yes and no.
Even before Nashville was officially canceled by ABC, Herskovitz and his thirtysomethingand My So-Called Lifeco-creator Ed Zwick were brought on board to take the reins. They'll be steering the ship when Nashville moves to CMT (with episodes available the next day on Hulu), and that means the show will look a little less like a soap opera and a little more like a serialized drama in its new incarnation.
"We were asked to come on board and run this show, and as I got to know the show as it was, I understood very quickly that the template for that show was a kind of template that I don't know how to do. It's not something I have any background in," Herskovitz admits. "It's a kind of accelerated storytelling, where a lot of things happen in every episode and that sort of thing."
He says they stepped back and drew a line in the sand. "The first thing we said was, we can't do that kind of show. What we have here is these amazing characters and these really powerful storylines and wonderful actors, and what we want to do is let them really resonate," he said. "Let the stories really play themselves out in a way that, by using that other template - where you would have really, like, eight stories per episode and a lot of things would happen very quickly - there wasn't a chance for the kind of emotional resonance that is really what we do."
Over at ABC, where Shondaland rules the roost, that type of whiplash dramatic storytelling, with big cliffhangers and hashtag-able moments, is the network's bread and butter. Not so at CMT, which is mostly known for country music showcases and reality shows, and which is just starting to showcase its scripted drama slate.
"I think it's important to say that the changes we've made in the show, we would have made at ABC as well," Herskovitz adds. "[But] I am actually happier to be at CMT than at ABC, because I feel that it gives us a chance to, in some way, let Nashville shine on its own in a place that really appreciates what Nashville means. Look, I spent many years working at ABC and I have a lot of respect for the people there, but it's a very big company with many, many shows, and they have their own brand. And I have frankly felt freer in some way being at CMT. ... We could just be what Nashville needed to be, and not be part of any kind of corporate strategy."
With that overall shift in mind, here are five other changes viewers can expect in Nashville's fifth season:
1. A slower pace
"The first thing we said was, 'We're slowing this thing down,'" Herskovitz says of his and Zwick's approach. Translation: Forget about the glut of major turning points/plot twists we've grown accustomed to. "We'll have two or three main stories per episode. We will have longer scenes; we'll go deeper into what each story is about," according to Herskovitz. "What we were basically saying is that we would rather bet on emotion than on the, I guess you'd say adrenaline factor. That sense of acceleration of things happening all the time. ... It may have worked very well, but after four years, it was time to kind of go deeper in some ways. So, that was what we declared as our mandate."
2. More music
Given that Nashville will now be airing on what's essentially the country music version of MTV, it's understandable that the show will put more of an emphasis on music. There won't necessarily be more music added, but the slower pace will provide the songs with a bigger share of the spotlight. "I think the show has done music incredibly well all four years. It's been something that I really love about the show," Herskovitz says. "I don't think that was broken, and we haven't tried to fix it. What I do feel is that there were time constraints at times, because they were trying to do so many stories, where they could only play a little bit of a song, that sort of thing. We've tried, where we can, to let songs play out and to let performances really resonate. I feel that that's something so particular to Nashville. There's no other show on TV like it in that way, and I want to honor that."
Mildest of spoiler alerts: Juliette's alive! In case the news that actress Hayden Panettiere had signed on for the revival wasn't an indication enough, Herskovitz confirms that the country diva will live through the plane crash that was hinted at in the Season 4 finale. But fans may be surprised at the extent of the emotional and physical toll it takes on her. "I'm allowed to say that Juliette survives, and beyond that I can't say," Herskovitz says. "I can't talk about what that means, but ... going through the crash-landing of a plane? Let's just say that's a life-changing event and just leave it at that."
4. More diversity
Nashville is rounding out its cast for Season 5 by adding characters of color, including Maddie's (Lennon Stella) new love interest Clay (Joseph David-Jones) and social worker Hallie Jordan (Rhiannon Giddens), as well as a trans character, played by trans actress Jen Richards.
But the goal of making the show more diverse was about more than just the acting roster. "When we looked at the show, we felt that there was a need for more diversity. That's one of those weird words. It's a buzzword," Herskovitz notes. "But we meant it in a lot of different ways, actually. We didn't mean we needed people other than just white people. It wasn't limited to that. We meant also, we wanted more diversity in music. ... Nashville the city, in the last 30 years, it's become the sort music crossroads of the entire world. It's not just the country music capital of the world. It's every kind of music, and it's extraordinary in that way, because there's such cross-pollination going on in the city of different musical styles. We wanted to get some sense of that into the show. So, adding characters of color, but also having different kinds of music has been a big goal of ours."
5. Emotional (but not sappy) storytelling
Although Nashville is starting to move away from the soapy storytelling, don't expect the characters to get... well, boring. The drama will still be there, just in plot lines may feel a little more grounded. "It wasn't our goal to come in and change the characters. We love the characters. ... It was our goal to actually explore the characters in a more deep way, and find out who they really are," says Herskovitz. "The key for me is emotion. ... You get to know these characters in a new way and feel them and feel their dilemmas, and feel their interactions in a deeper way."
According to Herskovitz, the stars of the show embracing the new narrative style. "The morale has been really high. People are very excited about what they're doing," Herskovitz says. "It's been wonderful to watch them shine. I knew they were great. And, by the way, they were given good things to do in the past. It's not like it's a complete change of the show. But the point is, watching them handle what could be called more challenging material has been really, really fun. They just eat it up."
Nashville will offer a sneak peek one-hour premiere on Thursday, Dec. 15 at 9/8c on CMT, followed by an official two-hour Season 5 premiere on Thursday, Jan. 5 at 9/8c on CMT. All new episodes, including the sneak-peek premiere, will be available on Hulu the day after they air on CMT.