One of the pleasures of my copyright law practice over the years has been that from time-to-time it brings me into contact with the Nashville music community, and sometimes—though not nearly often enough—takes me down to Music City itself. Its usually hum-drum, behind-the-scenes stuff, but there has been the occasional spot of glamour and excitement, such as sitting back-to-back with a 16-year-old Taylor Swift at a dinner (I hadn’t heard of her before that night, but it was obvious that very soon everyone would know her), or hearing Lady Antebellum play a small venue, before they had even released their first album. Naturally, I was eager to see the premiere tonight of ABC’s new series Nashville. With T. Bone Burnett (O Brother Where Art Thou; Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s Raising Sand) producing the music, his wife Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise) writing the script, and the fine actress Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) in the lead as a country music diva, Nashville brims with dramatic potential.
But I did not find much of the Nashville I have grown fond of in this production. An exact replica of the Blue Bird Cafe, along with lots of evocative location shots, provide a certain degree of verisimilitude, but something is missing. The problem is that the pilot episode, at least, adheres too closely to the conventions of primetime soaps and show biz sagas, in particular the tendency to focus voyeuristically on the lifestyles of the rich and famous, as they move about behind velvet ropes, in a bubble hermetically sealed off from the 99%. This may work fine for a soap set in New York, Hollywood, or Dallas, but in Nashville the stars and powerbrokers move rather more easily among the little people; that is one the city’s peculiar charms. Also missing is any sense that this is a Bible Belt city, with a genuine spiritual component.
The considerable talent behind this series might want to consider, before the show jumps the shark, adopting elements of another tried-and-true TV formula, the “Upstairs/Downstairs” template, interweaving characters and stories representative of the rest of the Nashville populace with those of the musical elite. There will still be plenty of opportunities for musical interludes—in my experience, scratch almost any nine-to-five working stiff in Nashville, and you find a guitarist, a singer, or a songwriter.