It’s a rare thing for fans to have power over TV shows, or to dictate when a show should be resurrected or canned. So the case of country-music drama Nashville, which was reborn on CMT one month after ABC cancelled it, is a complete anomaly. (It airs on W Network in Canada.) Dedicated fans, collectively and lovingly referred to as “Nashies,” were almost directly responsible for breathing new life into the show.
Nashville returned for a 22-episode Season 5 in mid-December 2016, and it’s been going strong ever since. In fact, it’s W Network’s highest-rated premiere drama ever. It’s safe to say Canadians love the show.
That’s a fact not lost on series star Charles Esten, who plays the rugged musician Deacon Claybourne on Nashville. Esten, along with series co-star Sam Palladio (Gunnar Scott), is joining country group Blackie and the Rodeo Kings at Toronto’s Massey Hall on Feb. 24 for a special concert. The duo will be playing a few songs with the band.
Esten spoke with Global News about Season 5 of the hit drama and how the show has changed this time around.
Global News: Nashville was cancelled, then brought back. How was that experience?
Charles Esten: When we found out we weren’t picked up again, the first emotion I felt was disappointment. To be honest, I’ve never had four seasons of anything. I loved everything about Nashville, so I was mostly grateful for the time I had… I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. We never had a guaranteed next season, anyway. But we always had a dedicated fan base.
We heard this fan base rising up and saying they didn’t want it to end. They were organized, savvy, they had hashtags and petitions. Even if nothing came of that, it was very sweet and a lovely thing to have happen. Then it started to build, and by the time we got picked up by CMT, it was clear the fans were a big reason, a big part of it.
What did that feel like to come back to set for Season 5?
To come back for the fifth season with all those things — the fact that we thought we lost it, the tremendous fan outcry that actually worked, our new writers and home on CMT [and W Network] — made it special and meaningful. When we first came back, we all looked at each other and were like, “Here we are!” [Laughs] We knew the show was precious to us, but maybe even more so on the other side of all of this.
Did you guys have a big group hug?
[Laughs] Well, we’re not all in the same scenes… so not so much a group hug, but a whole lot of individual hugs.
How different is Nashville now that you have new writers and showrunners?
Marshall [Herskovitz, co-showrunner] himself told me that he was drawn to the characters. What’s different is the pace of the storytelling, and through that lens, it also changes the individual scenes. If you have a whole lot of story to get to in one episode, it means the scenes can’t be as long, and the songs can’t be as long. If the scenes can’t be as long and you have a lot of information to give, there isn’t a lot of time for subtext.
In the first episode of Season 5, Rayna James (Connie Britton), rather than flying back from Los Angeles, gets in an old convertible and takes the back roads to Nashville. She encounters the real roots of country music and takes the time to listen to it. I think it’s a great metaphor for the show: in some ways, it feels like Nashville itself got off the jet and is now taking those back country roads.
What’s coming up for Deacon in the rest of Season 5?
The truthful answer is I don’t know. We don’t know as far out as people might think. To be honest, I prefer that, since that’s how my life is. [Laughs] I will say, for the ones we’ve shot and haven’t aired yet, that they’re extremely powerful and pivotal episodes. I can’t go into the plot specifics, obviously, but the writing has been so great. It’s not a season you’re going to want to miss, that’s for sure, if you’re a fan of Nashville. Hang on tight.
Are we looking at another cliffhanger?
We’re only halfway through, so it’s tough to tell. It’s possible. The Season 4 finale had both a resolution and a cliffhanger, so my guess is it’ll be similar to that. But again, it’s a guess.
Can you tell me a little bit about your concert in Toronto on Friday night?
This is really exciting for us! Both Sam Palladio (who plays Gunnar) and I are big fans of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, so this means a lot. We’ve seen these guys play down here, and we’re all brothers at this point.
We’re going to be in Toronto on Friday, Feb. 24th, and we can’t wait to play up there. We’ll be playing several songs, including a couple from Nashville. I adore Canadian audiences, it’s going to be a big night!