It’s official: “Nashville,” the now briefly-canceled ABC drama starring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere as warring country singers, has been picked up by CMT for a new season, with Hulu on board to distribute each new episode the day after it airs. But while the news that “Nashville” has been rescued is certainly joyful for the show’s loyal fans, it also hints at both the good and the bad of the business today.
Of late, this sort of post-cancellation rescue is far from uncommon. “Nashville” is so far the only survivor of last month’s so-called “Black Thursday” cancellations (which were so brutal and protracted that they stretched into the next day). However, it’s not surprising that it managed to get a pick-up, given how aggressively Lionsgate (the studio behind the show) pushed for another opportunity to continue the story. In fact, they reportedly chose to end the Season 4 finale on a major cliffhanger (despite having shot an alternative ending that would be more of a true goodbye)… and then openly encouraged fans to tweet about it.
Beyond that ultimately successful strategy, Lionsgate had one other factor going for it. The “Nashville” move serves as another reminder that the earthquake shaking apart broadcast television might be best identified as the rise of niche content. With its soap opera take on the country music world, at least on the surface “Nashville” was a show with a very specific audience — and thus superficially, CMT feels like a natural home. How many of the 4.1 million people who watched this year’s finale will find the show on CMT? That’s unknown, but it marks a big move for the network as it moves into the scripted realm.
The problem with an emphasis on programming niche content is that it presumes audiences are only interested in shows deliberately targeted to them, and that they’re not interested in stories that don’t directly connect with their own experiences. And sometimes, a great show is a great show, no matter what the presumed target demographic might be. Take Lifetime’s “UnREAL,” a show which has received vast acclaim from both men and women, but does still struggle to find the same sort of mainstream audience that tuned in for “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men.”
By going to CMT, it’s hard to imagine “Nashville” building its audience beyond the previously existing CMT viewers. The ray of hope here, however, is the Hulu aspect of the deal, which means that while technically “Nashville” has its niche home, the show will also have a much larger platform for discovery. It’s a savvy reminder that for shows which lack “Game of Thrones”-level buzz, the widest possible distribution goes a long way.
As a show, “Nashville” may not be for everyone. But it may have just shown other shows the way resurrection should be done.