On Sunday (Sept. 11), FOX will premiere the new multi-generational musical drama Monarch.
The series focuses on America’s “leading family of country music,” built around the “Queen of Country Music” Dottie Cantrell Roman (played by Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon), and her beloved husband and fellow country music royalty Albie Roman (played by multi-Platinum country music star Trace Adkins).
The dramatic story finds the Romans ruling their country music dynasty, a legacy their daughter Nicolette “Nicky” Roman (played by Golden Globe nominee Anna Friel) plans to continue with her own music career. Nicky’s brother Luke Roman (Joshua Sasse) is also in the family business, serving as CEO of the Romans’ Monarch Entertainment. Youngest daughter Gigi Tucker-Roman (Beth Ditto) is very close to her older brother and sister, but in a family of superstars, she’s always felt like bit of an outcast despite her incredible singing voice.
As learned from a sneak peek of the show, things get tricky for the Romans when it’s discovered that the very foundation of their success is a lie. The show, which is 100% owned and produced by FOX Entertainment, debuts with a special two-night event, beginning Sunday, Sept. 11, immediately following the FOX NFL doubleheader at 8 p.m. EST.
Prior to the premiere, MusicRow caught up with Monarch‘s executive producer and top music manager, Jason Owen, as well as Monarch‘s executive music producer Adam Anders.
Owen says that Monarch came about to offer something new to viewers, especially in middle America.
“Gail Berman, who has become my mentor, is a genius producer. She ran FOX during the decade that they had American Idol and Glee,” Owen says. “She has her own production company now and she has felt like there needed to be a country music-centric show for FOX, knowing that FOX’s demographic was really in the middle of the country. No one was really speaking to the middle of the country, they were all speaking to the coast.”
That’s where screenwriter Melissa London Hilfers came in. She was the perfect choice to write the story of the Romans, as she grew up on country music.
“Gail needed someone who knew both TV and the music business—someone that can add authenticity to this, but also add drama to it,” Owen says. “That’s where I came in. We had a meeting three and half years ago and just immediately connected.”
With his background in the country music industry, and a client list that includes Kacey Musgraves, Little Big Town, Dan + Shay and Kelsea Ballerini, it’s easy to assume that Owen would have a lot of influence and knowledge to draw on when creating Monarch.
“You’ll see storyline references through the process that you could probably connect some dots to [in country music history], whether it’s a divorce or something like that. There’s a story about one of the record labels buying someone’s masters. There are those through lines that come from reality.
“Look, there’s no question that I’m surrounded by divas every day—including myself!” Owen adds with a laugh.
There is one character, however, that is inspired after a well-known Nashvillian.
“One real life example I took for the script was for Dottie’s hairdresser Earl,” Owens says. “Earl Cox is a legend in hair for country music and a dear friend of mine. He’s done hair for Martina McBride, Wynonna Judd, Tammy Wynette, Faith Hill, and everybody else you can imagine. He’s such a character and he’s such a wonderful human.
“Earl was not part of the original script. At some point, I said, ‘We need this counterpart because the glam teams, specifically ones that have been with these artists for a long time, have a big influence on them.’ So Earl was written in. We got permission from Earl to use his real name. I use a lot from him, including a lot of his sayings and interactions.”
In a show about country music, it’s no surprise that the music on the show was of the utmost importance. That’s why the Monarch team brought in three-time Grammy Award nominee and series executive music producer Adam Anders to head up the music. Anders has experience in creating a soundtrack for a television series that is larger than life, as he was the executive music producer for Glee.
Anders is also a true country music fan from childhood, making him the perfect steward for the music of Monarch.
“The first record I ever bought was when I saved my pennies to buy Kenny Rogers‘ The Gambler,” Anders says. “I’ve always had an affinity for country music. My parents loved it. I moved to Nashville whenI was 16 years old. I started as a bass player and did a lot of Christian and country records. I cut my teeth as a songwriter in Nashville.
“The thing that drew me to the show was it’s not just classic country or new country, it’s everything in between as well,” he adds. “There was an opportunity for original songs. The only real correlation with Glee is that we get to introduce songs to a new generation. [Viewers] might not have heard a Waylon Jennings song, a Hank Williams song or Barbara Mandrell song, so it’s fun for me to reframe those in a way that is appealing to this generation. A great song is a great song.”
When it came time to find a theme song for Monarch, more Nashville creatives were called in. The Love Junkies—Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose—wrote a haunting song called “The Card You Gamble” for the show. Talented songstress Caitlyn Smith recorded it.
“FOX really wanted an original theme song versus a licensed theme song,” Owen shares. “I have had tremendous success with the Love Junkies and they’re great friends of mine. I called Beth Laird first and she got them all on a Zoom with me. I walked through what the show was, what we were looking for, and the concept. I sent the first script and talked through it all. Within three or four days, they had that song back to me.
“Then, of course, we needed someone to sing it,” he adds. “FOX was going to hire a singer that does theme songs, but I said, ‘No, I have literally one of the best voices in country music: Caitlyn Smith.’ She jumped on it and they were thrilled.”
One thing that is evident with the Monarch team is their intention to include as many Nashville creators as possible.
“The songwriting community in Nashville [is involved in the new songs], as well as the musician community,” shares Anders. “We’re tracking every song in Nashville and all the backgrounds are Nashville singers, so it’s a really a Nashville affair.”
Catch the series premiere of Monarch on Sunday, Sept. 11, immediately following the FOX NFL doubleheader (8:00-9:00 p.m. ET, and simultaneously to all time zones). It then makes its time period premiere Tuesday, Sept. 20 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), following the season six debut of The Resident (8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT).
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