The Real Star of CMT’s Nashville? Nashville. | V by Viacom
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The Real Star of CMT’s Nashville? Nashville.

Following the Evolution from City to Central Character

Chicago has Chicago P.D. and Chicago Fire. D.C. has Scandal and House of Cards. New York City has Law & Order and Broad City. But when it comes to Nashville, only one TV show comes to mind: Nashville. The series has been working overtime to not only authentically represent its namesake, but also ensure that the essence of the city is captured in every episode.

The drama—now in its fifth season following a move to CMT—has shot on location in Nashville since day one, and the city itself has arguably become one of the most dynamic characters on screen. No matter what’s testing the fates of Nashville’s cast of characters, fans can always rely on the uniquely cozy acoustics of the Bluebird Café and the signature old-school grandeur of the Grand Ole Opry stage to stay the same season after season.

As Rory Levine, VP of Marketing at CMT elaborates, “There’s no underestimating how deeply entwined the city of Nashville is within the show, and the show within the city… When you have series shooting in remote locations just for tax credit benefits, you miss out on all that.”

This idea of showcasing the city was an important element for series creator Callie Khouri. Khouri, who lived in Nashville when she was younger, told The New York Times, “This is a place that can be mocked and made fun of, and sometimes it deserves it, like any place. But it also is an incredibly beautiful, cosmopolitan city, and I wanted to show that to the world. I want to represent it in a way that everybody who lives here would find completely realistic.”

The cast also draws inspiration from the place they’ve learned to call home. Sam Palladio, the British actor and musician who plays singer/songwriter Gunnar Scott, feels that “Nashville just wouldn’t have the same heart and pulse if we were on a soundstage in LA or NY. The musicality of the city influences [the actors], influences our performances… it just couldn’t be the same.” Chris Carmack (Will Lexington), agrees. “As an actor telling a story, shooting on location is always better. You don’t have to do that work in your head, thinking, ‘OK, what’s the vibe?’”

Levine also believes this unique vibe is heavily amplified by the number of locals present behind-the-scenes. “You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t work on the show, or hasn’t lent out their house as a location, or has a family member who works in the crew or does craft services, or appeared as an extra in a scene.”

Authenticity is more than just a buzzword for the people behind the scenes—it’s an anthem that drives everything they do. But with that comes the added pressure to build a fantasy world set within the reality of day-to-day Nashville city living. Kendall Bennett, Nashville’s production designer (and a local resident herself), confirms that it’s a careful balancing act that the team has managed to perfect. “When I first got here, a lot of people I knew growing up were like, ‘You have to make sure it is right!’ We do a lot of on-the-ground research and scouting here in town to make sure the things we do are accurate. I feel like we’ve done a good job, and I hope that other people feel that way too.”

Being outside of NY or Los Angeles presents some concrete infrastructure challenges (costume sourcing being one prime example, given fewer selections compared to that of the East and West Coasts), but these challenges have proven to be worth the effort; the screen time the city has received has helped to boost Nashville tourism revenue significantly (the city’s Visitors Bureau now includes a TV show location map), as fans turn into repeat visitors. Not only did Nashville top many travel lists, the Nashville airport broke its record for traffic in November 2016. “[It’s] showcased our great songwriting talent and shined a global spotlight on us,” notes Butch Spyridon, president & CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. “Without question, the show has played a role in sustaining a long run of unprecedented success.”

As experiential travel and television become more and more popular for shows like Game of Thrones, Outlander, and The Walking Dead, Nashville the show and Nashville the city have also continued to forge a deep emotional bond with fans both onscreen and in person. “Nashies” seem to have picked up on the effort for extreme authenticity, and through that have found a way to channel their desire to literally be a part of the story as it unfolds.

“I worked with someone who called it the butter layer,” says Bennett. “The biscuit itself is great, but you have to add the butter at the end.”

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PHOTO CRED: Courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation

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Published: Jan 13, 2017