It’s like the Kenny Rogers song says: You’ve gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. So when the Powers That Yeehaw at ABC’s Nashville took stock of the country-music series’ slowly but steadily ebbing ratings over the past three seasons, they made a change: bringing in Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz as co-showrunners, who will take over for a departing Dee Johnson if the show is renewed.
Herskovitz and Zwick are an offbeat — though, in my opinion, inspired — choice for the Connie Britton-led series, which has struggled to nail down its identity since Season 1. Is Nashville a primetime soap where a child’s real parentage is kept secret for more than a decade and mistresses fake miscarriages using pig’s blood? Is it a character-driven drama in which people’s demons (alcoholism, abandonment, the hunger for fame) take up prime real estate in their relationships and ambitions? Is it a showcase for some really top-notch tunes from up-and-coming singer/songwriters?
I don’t have an answer to those questions, by the way. And judging by how the drama has chugged along for four seasons, skipping around the Venn diagram described above without settling in the sweet spot of overlap, I’m guessing Nashville doesn’t, either.
That’s where the new guys come in. Zwick and Herskovitz’s resume, which includes My So-Called Life, thirtysomething and Once and Again, is testament to their focus on emotional content relayed in relatable fashion. The action of a Herskovitz-Zwick storyline may not be huge — such as when My So-Called Life‘s Angela and Rayanne parse their broken friendship with glances and tears during a rehearsal for the school play — but chances are good it’ll be a gutpunch, nonetheless.
And the same way that thirtysomething used Michael and Elliot’s advertising agency to explore various aspects of their deep friendship, Herskovitz and Zwick can employ the record business, in all its passion and cruelty, as a backdrop for the greater issues in the lives of Rayna & Co. I, for one, am psyched to see the series’ talented leading quartet — Britton, Charles Esten, Hayden Panettiere and Jonathan Jackson — take on the challenge.
With any big transition, though, comes the inevitable housecleaning. And just in case H&Z are listening, here are a few ideas that might help reinvigorate the Music City drama:
* Thin the herd: Too many characters on the canvas means shortened storytelling time for all. Luke Wheeler hasn’t had anything compelling to do since he drove a truck through his wedding cake; once Layla wraps her vendetta against Juliette, it’s likely time for her to skedaddle outta town, too. The teens? Better used sparingly than given their own plot. On a related note: Please God, let the Nashville wardrobe department not have plans to fit Lennon Stella with a pregnancy pad anytime in the near future.
* Make Will something other than just gay: By having every one of Mr. Lexington’s storylines revolve around his character’s sexual identity, he’s become a token. Chris Carmack is capable of much more, and so is the show.
* Leave Rayna and Deacon alone!: Everyone invokes Britton’s Friday Night Lights role, Tami Taylor to Kyle Chandler’s Coach, as the elusive gold standard in the portrayal of a realistic, happy adult marriage. Conventional wisdom says that the Taylors are an outlier, that only heightened conflict between partners makes for good TV. But I’d argue that a not-on-the-precipice-of-divorce union has its entertainment value, too; Madam Secretary‘s Elizabeth and Henry McCord are a good, current example of a duo with ups and downs and a fiery love/respect for one another — absent drunken car accidents, cancer diagnoses and the like.
* Bring on the tunes: I admit I haven’t counted up minutes of screentime or anything, but doesn’t it seem like there’s less music on the show now than there was in Seasons 1 and 2? You’ve got a birdcage full of beautiful warblers there, Nashville, and we want you to set them free and let ’em sang.
What suggestions do you have for Nashville‘s new showrunners? Hit the comments to let us know!