With a bang — or at least a staged car crash that shut down parts of Granny White Pike when it was filmed — the first season of “Nashville” ended Wednesday night.
The show was renewed by ABC for a second season, but real-world questions loom over the show’s production as much as the fictional cliffhangers do in the storyline.
The show’s raw ratings never quite lived up to its critical acclaim, though its proponents rightly point out it scores well in crucial demographics — notably female, young and/or wealthy — and that its revenue is bolstered by the successful tie-in with iTunes that allows nearly instantaneous download of songs featured in the show, many of which have become hits in their own right.
But the show is also extraordinarily expensive to produce. It has an ensemble cast that includes legitimate stars in Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere (each an appealing actress for the 40-somethings or the 20-somethings to relate to) and character actor par excellence Powers Boothe. The show’s creator — Nashville native and Oscar winner Callie Khouri — lobbied for the show to be filmed in its namesake, and all 23 first-season episodes were.
It created a postcard-perfect view of the Music City — aerial establishing shots, location hints scattered throughout like so many inside jokes (but where, oh where, did they find a Lower Broad honky-tonk so crowded on a Wednesday afternoon?).
By nearly every account, the show was a good neighbor — praised by the owners of homes and offices used as sets. There were occasional traffic snarls and road closures, sure, but the show’s actors and crew, for the most part, embraced the city as the city embraced the show.
But all that filming in Nashville only added to the cost of Nashville. If the end of Robert Altman’s Nashville proclaimed that this is not Dallas, the bottom-line of Khouri’s Nashville proclaims that this is not L.A., or even Vancouver or Atlanta.
It is expensive to film here; we are, as Micaela Bensko, wife of now-fired production supervisor Don Bensko, put it in an editorial for the Santa Clarita News, not a city rigged for television production.
With the dismissal of Mr. Bensko and Loucas George, the line producer who vociferously supported the shooting of the show on-location, the future of Nashville-in-Nashville is in doubt.
Which is too bad. Besides all the “Hey, I know where that is!” moments and the weekly games of spot-your-neighbor, location shooting gave a patina of authenticity on the show, which as a prime-time soap, often (and necessarily) lacked the gritty veracity of other city-centric dramas like The Wire and Treme.
The show’s producers are lobbying for more state and local tax incentives to remain on-site, which creates a convenient excuse for them to decamp to L.A. or wherever if they are denied them.
And that’s unfortunate, because the answer from Metro and the state should be a stiff no. For all the feel-goods having a major network show gives us, incentivizing them to shoot here is like paying a rich friend to take a pretty girl to the prom.
They should want to be here. They should want the authenticity they get from filming on actual Broadway and in real honky-tonks. If, as Khouri said in numerous interviews, they want Nashville to be a character as much as Rayna and Lamar are, then they should treat that character the same. Lionsgate and ABC pay Britton and Booth. Nashville deserves the same consideration.
Season 1 left with a bang, and if the show leaves, we’ll whimper. But let’s not open our wallets just to keep from crying.