Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TV coverage.
Oscar-winning Thelma And Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri found herself this morning at TCA on a panel promoting the new ABC serialized ensemble drama Nashville starring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere that might best be described as “Dallas in Tennessee.” Khouri is an executive producer of the new series. And if it seemed weird that such an esteemed feature scribe (who also wrote Something To Talk About and Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood) would be producing her first series for TV, her partner on the project is equally odd: R.J. Cutler, known primarily for his unscripted shows and whose past projects have included the likes of Flip That House and Greatest American Dog. Khouri admitted this kind of project is brand new for her but that she’s having a blast doing it. “I’m actually loving it because with a feature, you do it and it’s over”, she said. “But I’m getting to sit with some absolutely incredible writers and fan out stories that go on for a long time. And so I can plan for characters to go through things and go through changes that you would never be able to do in a feature film, because you cover such a long period of time. And I love that. It’s so much fun. It’s writing at a much faster pace than I’m used to, but that’s the only thing I’m having trouble with. Everything else about it is just so inspiring, to be able to take each character on a long journey and see them change, see them grow and put them through trial by fire.”
As for Cutler, he maintained that making a reality show and a scripted show aren’t really all that different (perhaps at least in part because most reality shows are partially scripted anyway). “The same principals of storytelling apply”, he noted, “whether you’re doing nonfiction or doing narrative. And when you’ve got a great script and an incredible cast and great music, directing’s directing. It’s a much bigger operation (doing a show like Nashville), and it’s nice to be able to have a couple of takes to get something”.
After the panel, Khouri was asked if doing television was her idea, or if she’s been driven to it by the state of the tentpole-driven film business. It turns out she tried her hand at series TV once before, a project with producer Steven Bochco that wasn’t picked up. But the experience whet her appetite. “Working with Steven and starting to sort of understand the long arcs of character and things like that made me really want to do it again”, she said. But wouldn’t she really rather be writing and producing and directing features? Well, yes and no. Khouri: “There’s fewer movies getting made and I think fewer of the movies I would want to make are getting made especially”, she said. “Sometimes you just kind of lose interest. I mean, I’m not going to be making big comic book movies and making the kind of movies I like to make is getting more difficult, certainly no studios are doing them anymore”.