ABC's Nashville has received deserved praise for its handling of Will Lexington's (Chris Carmack) struggles with his sexuality, and his whole coming out storyline. But now, some of the show's stars find themselves in the middle of a real-life battle over a recently-passed Tennessee law that discriminates against LGBT people.
House Bill 1840, which Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law this week, gives therapists and other mental health professionals the right to refuse to treat patients whose lifestyles go against the professional's "sincerely held principals."
When the bill was still under review, Nashville star Connie Britton spoke out against it, telling The Hollywood Reporter: "I shoot a TV show in Tennessee, and honestly, if they proceed with this, I'm not necessarily going to feel comfortable working there. That is a tricky situation because of course we employ a lot of people in the state, and you certainly don't want to have to interrupt that, but at the same time, this is the only way that we can have our voices be heard."
Added Carmack — who, according to THR, is reconsidering buying property in Nashville because of the law: "We said, 'Do we want to live in a place like this?' ... I guarantee you that there are many more individuals like myself and my fiancée who are potential long-term transplants from all over, who are saying, 'Is this a place I would want to call home, a place that would write this sort of thing into legislation?'"
A "tricky situation," indeed. ABC has yet to renew Nashville for a fifth season, but if it does, Carmack and Britton's comments beg the question: does the show's cast and crew have a responsibility to put their money where their mouths are, so to speak, and refuse to shoot in the state? Certainly Britton's comments, more so than Carmack's, will be perceived as an empty threat if the show continues to film there. Perhaps rather than pulling production from the state, the cast and crew of Nashville can use their influence to raise awareness and money for LGBT rights issues, and fight the good fight from within.
On the other hand, if ABC isn't planning to renew Nashville, this could be a nice opportunity for the network to put an activist label on its decision. Particularly because it would be difficult if not impossible for the show to relocate elsewhere, since so many scenes are tied to actual Nashville hotspots, including the Bluebird Café and the Grand Ole Opry — not to mention the local musicians who provide much of the show's music.
Earlier this year, a similar bill in Georgia drew a collective outcry from the stars and production companies of several TV shows and movies that are produced in the state, including The Walking Dead, The Vampire Diaries and the Hunger Games franchise.
ABC's parent company, Disney, joined a handful of entertainment companies, including Marvel, CBS and Lionsgate, to protest that legislation, saying, "We will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law."
Disney has made no public comment on the Tennessee law and has no plans to do so at this time, according to an ABC rep. But again, the Georgia legislation was just a bill, and the aim of the boycott was to discourage the governor from signing it into law. The Tennessee legislation, on the other hand, has already been signed into law. It's much more difficult to repeal an existing law, than to prevent something from becoming a law in the first place.
In all likelihood, ABC will not renew Nashville and the entire point will be moot. But it would be nice to see the show take as much of a stand off-screen — and stand with stars Britton and Carmack — as it has on-screen, when it comes to LGBT issues.