‘Nashville’ Can Be Saved: Here’s How

Ken Tucker
·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment

I’m gearing up for the series finale of Nashville on Wednesday night — you know, tuning my guitar, looking through my tattered spiral notebooks for all of my saddest you-broke-my-heart songs — but the nagging thought persists: Is this the last episode of Nashville?

Sure, ABC has canceled the country-music soap opera. Sure, Connie Britton went on Seth Meyers’s show last week and seemed pretty, kinda, very relieved to be moving on. But this is one of those shows that inspires a loyal fanbase. I don’t usually get involved in these save-this-show campaigns, but the one being waged on the Internet, particularly on Twitter with the hashtag #BringBackNashville, is pushing hard for a fifth season of Nashville. So are frequent Twitterer/co-stars such as Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio.

Indeed, whenever I’m not sobbing over the prospects of the cursed child little baby Cadence is doomed to be, I’ve been thinking of a way to bring the show back. It’s a compromise, to be sure. And we know compromises are something Bernie Sanders and Congress have made unfashionable. Still, here’s my idea: To lower the costs, free up the more senior, bigger-name stars who may want to leave, and relaunch a Nashville that centers around its youngest protagonists: star-crossed lovers Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio), melancholy producer-cad-dad Avery (Jonathan Jackson), gay yet otherwise clueless singer-songwriter Will Lexington (Chris Carmack), and weepy witchy-woman Layla (Aubrey Peeples).

In my scenario, Nashville will be rejiggered to become a universe in which Rayna and Deacon are lofty stars spoken of with awe but never seen, and Hayden Panettiere’s Julia Barnes has relocated to Hollywood to concentrate on her post-Oscar-win stardom. The “new” series — how would we rebrand it? Nashville: The Young and the Restless? — continues the struggles, the triumphs, and the colicky cries in the night of both Cadence and Avery.

I know my idea has its drawbacks. My favorite character in the show has always been Deacon — his songs, his voice, his struggles with his temper and the bottle. But the show has never done Deacon full justice (what was really called for was to make him a modern-day Hank Williams, and therefore have him die of alcohol poisoning in the back seat of a car on the way to a crummy Midwestern gig), and Charles Esten, like Britton, probably has bigger fish to fry now.

But by realigning Nashville as a show about young performers seeking, as the old country-music phrase has it, three chords and the truth, Nashville could proceed as a nighttime soap. I could imagine it on the CW, Friday nights, paired with another musical, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Or it’d be nice if it could shift over to cable and loosen up the amount of sex and drugs the series might explore with a newfound decadence. (Just think: Maddie could continue down the wayward path she’s taken and end up a strung-out junkie playing on the streets of East Nashville while Daphne drives by her in her chauffeur-driven limo on her way to a headlining night at the Grand Ole Opry! Best of luck to you girls in your real-life career as Lennon and Maisy, by the way.)

If this is truly the final Nashville on Wednesday, I’ll say good night and godspeed. But think about it, Lionsgate TV, the production company overseeing this show. Nashville, with a few new surprise twists in its plots and its lyrics, could go on being the television version of a Carrie Underwood weeper we never want to end.

Nashville airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. on ABC.