Nashville is ramping up to premiere its new faces, Rachel Bilson and Empire alum Kaitlin Doubleday. Following a special screening of the latest episode at the ATX Television Festival, writer Scott Saccoccio said of Bilson’s character Alyssa Greene: “Zack (Cameron Scoggins) brings her in. She’s from Silicon Valley, as a new CEO for Highway 65. She brings new ideas to the label that maybe not everybody likes, but some do and maybe that will create problems.”
While co-writer Jesse Zwick explained that Bilson’s character will not sing, saying, “She’s not a singer professionally,” exec music producer Tim Lauer joked, “She may or not go to a karaoke bar.”
Doubleday, the other new addition to the show, was not, Zwick said, selected for her previous form on Empire–that other soapy show about the music industry. “I didn’t know her specifically from Empire,” he said, “but we had a long process of looking for someone to play that role and we actually auditioned and read a lot of people and she was just someone that won it in the room. She’s just an excellent actress and we again had the freedom to pick the best person for it and it was her, she proved it, and you’ll see a lot more of her soon.”
Doubleday will debut as scandal-ridden singer-songwriter Jessie Caine on June 15, while Bilson will begin her arc June 22.
Just two episodes into the second half of Season 5, it’s still a brave new world for Nashville since its mainstay Connie Britton’s departure in Season 5A’s finale. As country star Rayna James, Britton dominated storylines until her untimely death following a car accident. Widespread concerns the show would not recover so far seem unfounded, Zwick said. “The amount of people who tweeted at me that they would never watch the show again and then told me a week later they were crying their eyes out,” he said. “People want to see what life would be like for everyone else, despite themselves, they’ve fallen in love with everybody else in the show and we’re just happy it went that way.”
While fans may weather the loss of Britton, writer-producer Geoffrey Nauffts said it had been very hard on the girls playing her daughters Maddie (Lennon Stella) and Daphne (Maisy Stella), and on the rest of the cast. “They’ve all grown up with her as their mom,” he said. “Just in talking about it, the girls were a mess. That whole episode was just an emotional train wreck for everyone.”
However, Saccoccio said the fan-driven move to CMT after ABC’s cancellation has been positive creatively. “It feels like the absolute perfect home,” he said. “It feels like this is where Nashville should be and should have been.” Nauffts agreed, saying CMT had given them more creative freedom.
“In general we’ve been able to slow down the storylines a little bit,” he said, “let them breathe a lot more, which has been really nice. I think we may have–in the old days on network television– shied away from the religion story for example, with Juliette (Hayden Panettiere). I think for network television that’s a little harder to tackle.”
The show is also planning more controversial storylines coming up, Zwick added. “All I can say is that CMT is giving us the creative freedom to explore these things. I wasn’t on ABC, but I think in general there’s a little bit more emphasis on letting us do our thing and explore these things, compared to say, the way a traditional network tries to drown you in notes.”
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