My long-standing prediction for ABC’s country music drama Nashville was that the series would eventually end after every single major character on the show eventually had sex with every other single major character on the show regardless of sex, creed, or familial affiliation. And after gagging through the last two seasons, it appears I was just about right.
Nashville first looked like a terrible idea to attempt to capitalize of the burgeoning mainstream popularity of country music when it was first announced. And then it ended up surprising almost everybody in the beginning with the depth of subject matter it was willing to delve into, especially in regards to how the country music industry works from the songwriting process, to unfair contracts and Auto-tune, to sexism, ageism, and prejudice, and then on to the variety of music showcased on the show, and how music producers like T Bone Burnett and Buddy Miller championed many small-time artists.
But just about the time Nashville sucked you in, it started to become so incredibly drama-laden, mawkish, and predictable, it turned into a guilty pleasure at its best, and virtually unbearable to watch in other instances. It wasn’t the acting, which for the most part was fine. Connie Britton, who plays the show’s ultimate main character Rayna James, does an excellent job at exuding the strength of country music womanhood and presented a Tao that deserves to be examined and editorialized upon all on its own.
But the writing got away from challenging the intellect by exposing the intricacies of the music industry and relying on subtleties to covey the emotions of characters, and just became one cry fest after another, one emotionally-charged and hard-to-believe plot twist after another, until story lines had become so ragged and tapped of life and believability, the entire enterprise needed to be put out behind the barn and shot.
Nashville was never a ratings hog, but ABC loved it for its cross marketing potential, and the types of demographics it lured to the network. And they were able to produce the series on the cheap from the tax incentives the real City of Nashville extended to the production. But on Thursday, it was announced that ABC is moving on, despite a recent reshuffling of management, and writing already in process for what would have been season 5 of the show. There is some talk that Nashville might try to switch networks, but without the ratings to bring with it, it’s hard to see this happening. Barring a miracle, the Season 4 finale on May 25 will now be the series finale.
The cancelling of Nashville has repercussions far beyond a few disappointed TV viewers. The show has been seminal to the spectacular growth in both population and tourism that Nashville has experienced over the last five years. It was an outlet for songs that were worthy of a larger audience, but couldn’t get placed in mainstream country music’s narrow, insular environment. And the ownership of the Grand Ole Opry was big underwriter of the show. The exit of Nashville will leave a gaping hole in the real Nashville economy that will not easily filled, and at a time when economically, country music already is in decline. Nashville was fortunate to ride the wave of popularity in country when it started, and now it might be the latest victim of its downturn.
Ultimately, the show suffered from the same ills as country music itself: an inbred environment, a slavish pandering for ratings and attention that undermines integrity and realism, and an obsession with image and drama instead of substance. 2016 is the age of Chris Stapleton, and the age of Game of Thrones. Either contemporize and appeal to a more intelligent and involved audience, or risk extinction. Let Nashville‘s demise be a lesson to the non-fiction world.