Stars, fans say goodbye to “Nashville” in final season

NASHVILLE — “Nashville” survived one previous cancellation, but the final curtain call is coming for the TV melodrama about the trials and tribulations of country music stars.

Lionsgate announced in November that after 120 episodes, the time had come for the series to end. The sixth and final season premieres Jan. 4 on CMT. It will air in two parts, with the finale coming this summer.

Although it was always soft on ratings, the fans — who called themselves Nashies — were loyal to the series starring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere, who both earned Golden Globe nominations for their roles. “Nashville” spawned more than a dozen soundtracks featuring songs from the series, concert tours with the actors and singers, and a tourism boom in the Southern city where it was filmed.

ABC cancelled the show after the fourth season. Fans mounted enough enthusiasm online for the series to be revived for two more seasons on CMT, but Britton’s exit last season signalled that an end was coming.

Show creator Callie Khouri gathered members of the cast and crew on the set version of Nashville’s famed Bluebird Cafe to give them the news, said actor Charles Esten. He said he was grateful they got a chance to say goodbye.

“Too often in this business you find out that last episode that aired was your last episode and you didn’t know when you were shooting,” Esten said. “We get that time together and the show writers get to end it in the way that they see fitting as opposed to just some cliffhanger.”

Panettiere, who spoke to The Associated Press before the cancellation was announced, said the series attempted to show celebrities with all their flaws. The actress played country star Juliette Barnes, who butted heads with just about every character on the show.

“A lot of people look up to us and idolize people in the limelight like that,” said Panettiere, who has experienced her own share of tabloid gossip in real life. “It’s hopeful to know that the people in that position, that you idolize, that you think are these perfect people who live perfect lives, you realize that they are not. They are imperfect. They are broken. They are hurt.”

The show’s plotlines and characters often veered into soap opera territory with a lot of breakups and makeups, sudden deaths and terrible judgment calls, but the music held it together. “Nashville” featured guest performances by Brad Paisley, Christina Aguilera, Steven Tyler and Florida Georgia Line. T Bone Burnett and Buddy Miller both served as executive music producers during the series.

The TV world of “Nashville” was sometimes more progressive than the way country music and Southern life has been typically portrayed on television and in film. “Nashville” has an openly gay male country star character, and a transgender actress was cast in a recurring role.

“I think a lot of people will now see even country, even the South, as being progressive in that way,” Panettiere said.

Esten, who has made Nashville his home, said he doesn’t know how the show’s writers will conclude his character’s story arc.

“I don’t know what they are going to do, but for my mind, it doesn’t need to be tied up in a perfect bow,” Esten said. “‘Cause this has always been a journey.”

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