In the midst of fall's usual frenzy of self-promotion, ABC's “Nashville” is the one show justifiably generating great buzz.
In the opening scene of the soapy drama premiering at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Rayna James (Connie Britton), hair in pin curls, playfully chases her daughters at home. In the next scene, she's a country star performing at the Grand Ole Opry.
The “Friday Night Lights” and “American Horror Story” actress really is singing, and quite well, as is co-star Hayden Panettiere (“Heroes”), playing the nasty ingenue, Juliette Barnes.
In the pilot, Rayna is finishing her set, and Juliette is going on, which sums up their careers at the moment. Though Rayna is more talented, Juliette's star is on the rise. Juliette will stop at nothing to get what she wants, and she wants precisely what Rayna has.
“You have to respect her to a certain degree,” Panettiere says, “even though she is a little bitch at some times. She is running from a very dark past.”
Juliette's mother is an addict who constantly begs for money.
“It's important as part of her, as she can be rough round the edges,” Panettiere says.
Expect comparisons to “All About Eve” in that there's an older woman and a younger woman, both after the same career, both wanting to be queen. Of course, there is only room for one at the top. In most shows, music is ambient; in “Nashville,” it's central.
Rayna's at a crossroads; the record company boss demotes her to opening for Juliette on tour, and she declines. After 20 years as a star, she's not done singing.
“I had sung before, but years ago,” Britton says. “Saying I sang semiprofessionally would be overstating it. As an actor, if I am ever going to be able to stretch those muscles — to work with T-Bone Burnett in music and creating a character — this is as good as it gets.”
Burnett, the show's executive music producer, has won 12 Grammys for performing, writing and producing.
“T-Bone scares me,” Britton says. “As an artist, it is a great thing to take risks, but you chose to do it in front of 15 million people, and I run into the bathroom to vomit. As an artist, when you challenge yourself, you take risks, it is so rewarding. I feel like I hit a high C.”