SPOILER ALERT: This story includes details about Wednesday night’s episode of Nashville.
An already dark beginning of Nashville’s fourth season got even darker last night with the tragic death of Oliver Hudson’s scheming Jeff Fordham as he tried to save Juliette from jumping off a ledge. The accident comes as Scarlett and Deacon are still reeling from Beverly’s death. Six episodes in, Juliette’s life is spiraling out of control following the birth of her baby, Avery is mourning the end of his marriage, and Will is falling apart following his coming out. In an interview with Deadline, Nashville executive producer/showrunner Dee Johnson indicates that the tragic streak on the show might be coming to an end. She talks about the decision to kill off Jeff after letting the show’s top villain redeem himself this season and about the repercussions of his death. (Hudson started on Nashville as a recurring and was promoted to a regular before returning to recurring status this season as he signed on for Fox’s Scream Queens.) Johnson also reveals that star Hayden Panettiere, who took a leave to get treatment for postpartum depression, will return this season and addresses the similarities between the actress’ struggles and those of her Nashville character.
DEADLINE: How and when did the idea about Jeff’s death come about?
JOHNSON: We knew we were likely going in this direction by the end of the last season.
DEADLINE: Was Oliver Hudson’s segueing to recurring status part of the exit plan for his character? Was the death a creative decision or a way to accommodate an actor who has other commitments?
JOHNSON: His becoming a series regular on Scream Queens limited the amount of episodes in which he could appear on our show.
DEADLINE: Were other, non-lethal options considered for his character?
JOHNSON: No, we wanted to evolve Jeff by having him actually find happiness – in both love and career. We wanted him to seemingly have it all, to have grown enough as a human being to care about a desperately lost Juliette, even though he was no longer her manager. We wanted this character who was widely viewed as a villain, to go out in an unexpectedly heroic way.
DEADLINE: This season already had been very emotionally charged and heavy, it might be Nashville’s darkest one yet. Can you talk about that?
JOHNSON: Well, it’s always darkest before the light.
DEADLINE: What will be the repercussions of Jeff’s death for those around him: Layla, Juliette, Luke?
JOHNSON: Big ramifications for all three, both professionally and personally.
DEADLINE: Will the jolt help bring Juliette back from the brink?
JOHNSON: It’s definitely the worst sort of wake-up call.
DEADLINE: The storyline of Juliette’s postpartum emotional struggles plays eerily realistic. Was it informed by Hayden Panettiere’s real-life issues?
JOHNSON: Absolutely not. We incorporated Hayden’s pregnancy into the storyline last season, but we knew Juliette would have issues with motherhood and had always planned for her to struggle with her demons afterwards, including postpartum depression.
DEADLINE: How are you proceeding with filming the season without Hayden? Have you had to adjust storylines?
JOHNSON: It’s not the entire season, it’s just for now. And yes, we’ve had to make adjustments but it’s not uncommon for shows to have to make such accommodations when real life intervenes.