Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
Today’s PaleyFest panel on ABC’s freshman drama Nashville raised questions appropriate for a soap opera: When the show returns on March 27, what heat will develop between Connie Britton’s Rayna James and Charles Esten’s Deacon Claybourne? And when (if ever) will Deacon find out he’s really the father of Rayna’s daughter Maddie? Plus a question from the audience: As per news reports, are the stars of the country music series planning to go on a concert tour? The show’s creator/executive producer Callie Khouri joked: “We might go on vacation.” Added Esten: “I know there’s talk about it, but it’s in vague stages, it would make sense to anybody on some level, but there’s nothing very concrete about it.” Esten added that he hoped that the man in charge of the music for Nashville — T Bone Burnett, who is also Khouri’s husband, would be an integral part of the venture. “I would say again that if it ever happened in any form that T Bone would have his warm and loving arms around it and make it all that it could be”.
Moderator Debra Birnbaum, president and editor-in-chief of TV Guide Magazine, wasn’t able to coax any spoilers about either the tour or the plot from the producers and cast. That group included Khourie, executive producer Dee Johnson and cast members Britton, Esten, Hayden Panettiere, Clare Bowen, Jonathan Jackson, and Sam Palladio. Executive producer R.J. Cutler, who directed the critically acclaimed pilot, could not be present because of the recent death of his father, Khouri said.
About that sexual tension between Rayna and Deacon: “Do you think that we’re going to relieve that tension so you don’t have to watch again? No!” quipped Esten. Said Britton: “It’s a very grown up relationship of people who have a lifetime of history together. We can just rip each other apart in so many ways.” Deadpanned Khouri: “That’s not what [fans] want to hear ripping” (referring to the character’s clothes). But Khouri added: “I’m not saying nothing” about any upcoming plot twists, sexual or otherwise. She joked that there’s one advantage to being behind on scripts: The characters can’t reveal any secrets because they don’t know what’s going to happen.
The panelists could afford to crack wise about sexual tension and love affairs because the immediate future of Nashville is secure. The show received a full season order in November and already has an impressive number of honors under its rhinestone belt. The list includes Golden Globe nominations for Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere, a People’s Choice nomination for the series and a 2013 Writers Guild Award for Best Screenplay. Nashville also survived its own backstage melodrama when showrunner Jim Parriott was replaced by Dee Johnson.
So those soap-y plot questions kept coming in the form of tweets and audience questions: What’s up for Panettiere’s Juliette? While Panettiere reveaeld no details about her character’s love life, she said Juliette would continue to rekindle her strained relationship with her addict mother and to try to break out of her musical strait jacket as a pop-country princess. Will Bowen’s Scarlet and Palladio’s Gunnar become more than friends? While acknowledging their “emotional roller coaster”, Bowen squealed: “We can’t give it away.”
Related: ‘Parenthood’ At PaleyFest: Season 5?
For her part, Khouri acknowledged that the catfighting Rayna and Juliette are a long way from the bonded BFF’s in her signature screenplay Thelma & Louise. “That was a long bus ride,” she said. “It’s a departure for me.” She said she is enjoying the challenge of develop a longterm relationship between women in a TV series, adding jokingly: “They are not going into a canyon — spoiler alert.”