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As CMT Announces Nashville S5 Premiere, Consider Watching FOX’s Empire As a Companion Piece

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If you’re a fan of the female-led country music-based show, Nashville, you got your first bit of good news when, after being cancelled by ABC after four seasons, CMT decided to pick it up and renew it for its fifth. Now, they’ve finally announced a release date.

As reported by Deadline Hollywood, the show, starring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere, will have its fifth season premiere on CMT on January 5th, 2017. Thankfully, it will continue to stream new episodes the day after they air on Hulu, which is how I watched the show originally, because ain’t nobody got time for cable bills these days.

CMT dipped its toes into the waters of original scripted programming this season with the Billy Ray Cyrus vehicle, Still the King, which has done well for the network. Now they (along with pretty much every network that knows what they’re doing) are diving into the deep end and are more actively pursuing scripted projects, with Nashville anchoring a slate that includes Still the King, a new scripted miniseries called Million Dollar Quartet (based on the Broadway musical about a legendary jam session between Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis), and a new pilot called His Wives and Daughters.

If you’re not yet on the Nashville bandwagon, I would encourage you to take some time between now and January to check out the first four seasons of the show on Hulu. Yes, it can be very melodramatic. It’s set in the music industry, after all. However, it has a Lebanese-American female creator in Callie Khouri, who will continue on as an Executive Producer (even though the show has new showrunners in Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick), and is not only a female-led story, but it’s very feminine in tone.

Empire

I often jokingly refer to Nashville as “white Empire,” and refer to Empire as “black Nashville.” Both are melodramatic family dramas set in the music industry (and have killer soundtracks). Both shows examine how women are marginalized and/or forced to do things to survive and thrive that would never be expected of men. Both shows examine LGBTQIA issues in extremely conservative and homophobic environments. The big difference between the two shows, other than the obvious racial differences, is the fact that Empire is a very testosterone-fueled show.

As hip-hop is a very masculine and male-dominated genre, despite the occasional Nicki Minaj, and as Empire was created by men (Danny Strong and Lee Daniels), this makes sense for Empire.

Nashville, being set in the country music scene, has the permission to be more feminine, and the show runs with that. The main protagonists are female, and most of the “B” and “C” plots of every episode focus on the female characters. The show looks at things like slut-shaming, sexism, harassment, substance abuse, and post-partum depression through a decidedly female lens, and even when they choose to focus on the male characters, it’s in a way that doesn’t marginalize the women. Whenever we’re watching a female character experiencing something sexist on the show, the tone of the show itself is always “Look at what bullshit this is.”

Actually, as Empire goes into its third season on FOX on September 21st, I might be watching both shows more comparatively this TV season. Each of these shows manages to sneak discussion of substantive issues into the melodrama and glamour of the industries they portray, and it would be interesting to contrast and compare the ways in which they address similar things and also the ways in which they differ. Where does race inform certain plotlines? Where does gender, or sexuality? And what, if anything, do hip-hop and country music have in common?

What do you think? Are any of you watching either show (or both)? How do you think they compare? Let’s talk music industry melodrama in the comments!

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