Primetime “Nashville”: Pilot Episode

Loyalty—it’s the major theme running through TV series Nashville, which premiered last night (10/10) on ABC. The much-hyped drama shot exclusively in Music City wooed about 9 million watchers, coming in second among the major networks for the 10 PM ET hour, according to Zap2It.com. It won the hour in adults 18-49, but will viewers remain loyal and tune in next week?

Here’s a recap of the pilot, which set up plenty of juicy storylines. As the series unfolds most of the players are on Team Rayna, but will they stay true all season?

Past-her-prime country sensation Rayna James (Connie Britton) is married to Teddy Conrad. He’s had some failures, but is ready for his turn in the spotlight. They met as children in Nashville’s old money circles, and those influences show in snippets, as she dons pearls for political events and he politely reminds their daughters, “It’s bad manners to talk about money.” Teddy and Rayna both have father issues: his was a drunk and hers could end up being the show’s worst villain. In the series premiere, they have grown “cash poor” so Rayna needs to hit the road on tour to remedy the situation.

Rayna’s powerhouse father Lamar Wyatt is introduced as a “captain of industry and titan of philanthropy.” Her sister, Tandy Wyatt, is being groomed to take over Lamar’s business. After their mother died when Rayna was 12, Lamar didn’t shape up to be father of the year. (Note Rayna’s last name, James, is not her married name or her maiden name…hmmm.)

Lamar’s plans include building a major league ballpark by the Cumberland river, so he needs some political pull and convinces Teddy to run for mayor. Teddy obliges under the condition that Lamar play nice with the opposing candidate, Coleman Carlisle.

Disapproving of her husband’s mayoral run, Rayna confronts Lamar about his true motivation behind the scheme. At daddy’s mansion a screaming match ensues, during which he tells her for the first time that he funded her debut album. She leaves yelling, “we can’t be bought.” He snuffs, “Don’t be foolish enough to make [me an enemy] because my enemies don’t fare too well.”

Rayna’s professional team includes longtime band leader Deacon Claybourne, producer Randy Roberts, Edgehill Republic Entertainment Records and legendary producer/songwriter Wally “Watty” White. But wait, many of those players are also working with hot young superstar Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere).

During an Opry tribute to White, played by real-life legendary songwriter JD Souther, we get a first look at the characters performing their own songs. Rayna wows the crowd front-of-house when she belts out “Already Gone” (Kyle Jacobs, Ben Glover, Joy Williams), but backstage things are less cheery. She has a snippy first encounter with Juliette, after which the label asks her to “co-headline” —uh, open for— Juliette. At the Opry, observant TV viewers probably caught Eric Paslay, and the Del McCoury Band hanging backstage and heard the voice of announcer Eddie Stubbs.

Rayna’s other song from the pilot is “It’s My Life” (Bob DiPiero, Sarah Buxton), while Juliette’s pop-leaning material includes “Boys And Buses” (Shane McAnally, Brandy Clark, Josh Osborne) and “Love Like Mine” (Kelly Archer, Justin Weaver, Emily Shackelton).

Later when Rayna visits Watty’s WSM radio show, he plays Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” and asks Rayna if she shares that philosophy. She replies, “if he stands by me.” So, where’s the loyalty in that marriage?

Rayna dons a suit to meet Marshall Evans, the new head of Edgehill Republic, and discuss her tour. Her platinum plaques line the walls of the high-rise suite in the Pinnacle building, hanging next to Juliette’s newer plaque. With Rayna’s single stiffing and ticket sales tanking, Marshall says, “You’ve got to find your place in a new market.” “I feel like I built this company,” Rayna asserts, reminding him of her devotion to Edgehill when other labels came calling. But that doesn’t matter these days, and she leaves saying, “You can kiss my decision as it’s walking out the door.”

Toward the end of the episode, she is sitting in her car on a bridge in the middle of a downpour, pondering her major life transition. Bridge, transition, get it?

As Deacon’s story unfolds we learn that he and Rayna have a romantic history, and that he may have fathered her oldest daughter Maddie. For the last 12 years, their relationship has been strictly business, but they remain close. During a walk on the pedestrian bridge, she confides to him, “I’m not ready to hang up my rhinestones yet.” She admits she never cut any of the songs he wrote because they are about her. He tells Rayna that Juliette is trying to lure him away. Given all the team members they have in common, Rayna scouls, “Is she comin’ for my house next?”

In a last-ditch effort to find a winning single, Rayna shows up at her producer Randy’s condo at the Terrazzo. When she finds out he’s also working with Juliette, she likens the younger singer’s sound to “ferrel cats.” Unbeknownst to Rayna, Juliette overhears from the bedroom.

But Randy’s not the only one sleeping with Juliette. Later at her house (set in Hillwood’s tony gated community Hill Place) she’s seducing Deacon. They first met outside the Bluebird Café where he was singing in a round with Gary Nicholson, Fred Knobloch, and Pam Tillis (a longtime friend of series creator and exec. producer Callie Khouri). After the round, the sly star corners him in the parking lot and says she wants to record his song “Back Home” (Kyle Jacobs, Lee Brice, Joy Yelton). She also offers to double his salary if he joins her band. And in another storyline, we learn about Juliette’s strained family relations with her junkie mom.

The Bluebird figures so prominently in the series that the Nashville team created an exact replica of the venue for shooting. That’s a good indication of the growing prominence of the characters we meet at the Bluebird, including Deacon’s niece Scarlett O’Connor, her alt-country songwriter boyfriend Avery Barkley (word is he will bring some East Nashville scenes to the show) and venue sound guy, songwriter Gunnar Scott.

Gunnar, who has an eye on Scarlett, puts her poems to music with the smoky tune “If I Didn’t Know Better” (John Paul White, Arum Rae). They sing it onstage, and guess who happens to be in the audience—Watty, who immediately calls Rayna and says “I’ve got an idea.”

Leave comments below and tune in next week to Primetime Nashville. For more on Nashville, check out MusicRow’s exclusive interview with executive producer Steve Buchanan in the upcoming Publisher Issue.

• • • •

Here are the other songs featured on last night’s episode: “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” Eli Young Band, “Small Town USA” Justin Moore, “Type Of Gurl” Rasheeda, “Too Good To Be True” Edens Edge, “Sin For A Sin” Miranda Lambert, “Did It For The Girl” Greg Bates, “Stand By Your Man” Tammy Wynette, and “Rose Colored Glasses” John Connlee.

Series creator and executive producer Callie Khouri is married to T Bone Burnett, who is the show’s executive music producer. See what Connie Britton told Rolling Stone about working with Burnett:

It really is everything it’s cracked up to be. Before I worked with him, I was thinking to myself, “What is it with this guy? What is it that he does, exactly?” I knew he was an incredible music producer, but I didn’t know what that entailed. And when we started, we spent a lot of time – I mean, hours – listening to music. The more obscure stuff was [artists like] Memphis Minnie, but then we’d listen to Hank Williams or Emmylou Harris. There’s a huge list of stuff, and then he literally put together a disk drive full of thousands of songs for me, all of which is “Rayna” music. Songs she would’ve listened to, songs that might have inspired her, songs that might have impacted the way her voice sounds. And then he would pull out his guitar and we would sing duets together. We would sing Hank Williams songs or Johnny Cash songs, and he’d sing harmonies. It’s truly been an immersion.

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Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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