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ABC's 'Nashville' hits all the right notes

| Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, 8:57 p.m.
NASHVILLE - 'Someday You'll Call My Name' - Rayna immerses herself in her kids' lives and her husband's campaign, and is sobered to learn that she and Teddy are facing financial ruin; Juliette offers Deacon an exclusive contract to write and tour with her; and Juliette's troubled mother, Jolene, re-enters her daughter's life in dramatic fashion. Meanwhile, Scarlett and Gunnar's big break with Watty is threatened, on 'Nashville,' WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 24 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/KATHERINE BOMBOY-THORNTON) ERIC CLOSE, CONNIE BRITTON

In the opening scene of ABC's “Nashville,” the soapy drama premiering 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 an interview with Zap2it, the two actresses reflect on singing and why they wanted this show.

In the pilot, Rayna is finishing her set, and Juliette is going on, which sums up their careers at the moment. Although Rayna is more talented, Juliette's star is on the rise. Juliette will stop at nothing to get what she wants, and she wants what Rayna has.

“You have to respect her to a certain degree,” Panettiere says, “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.

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.

In most shows, music is ambient; in “Nashville,” it's central. In a wonderful scene backstage at the Opry, Juliette is introduced to Rayna.

“I know you,” Rayna says to Juliette. “You were burning up out there, girl.”

“I know you,” Juliette retorts. “My momma was one of your biggest fans. She said she'd listen to you when I was still in her belly.”

And the fight is on. But Juliette won't leave it at barbs about age. It's not enough to go after Rayna's perch; Juliette wants the men around Rayna. And Juliette practically purrs at men.

In the pilot, the cast performs at the Opry, not on a set.

“My first day of shooting was at the Opry,” Britton says. “I was so excited to be in this — the chance at the Opry!”

Clearly at home on that stage, Rayna is a woman with a past she prefers hidden and a rocky future.

Her dad, duplicitous businessman Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe, “24”), is setting up Rayna's husband, Teddy Conrad (Eric Close, “Without a Trace”), to run for mayor so Dad can control Nashville through his son-in-law.

Rayna had a romance with her guitarist, Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten, “Enlightened”), and he may well be the father of one of her daughters.

The rich characters are thanks to writer Callie Khouri (“Thelma & Louise”). Even characters introduced in the pilot, such as a cafe waitress, are layered and talented.

“Nashville” creator R.J. Cutler says, “I wanted to find a way to do a contemporary response to (late director Robert) Altman's ‘Nashville.' It was compelling to do a narrative where the city is a main character. I knew I wanted a company town. I wanted to make it music. Then I met Callie.”

And it all fell into place.

Jacqueline Cutler writes for Zap2it.com.

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