There’s something about Nashville. Put it on a screen and the city causes rapture of the deep in people who wouldn’t ordinarily give either the city or its musical culture a second thought.
The first time it happened was Robert Altman’s impressive but insanely overrated mosaic movie, “Nashville,” in 1975. That was the one where Lily Tomlin played a lonely housewife seduced by Keith Carradine singing “I’m Easy” (a middling song most notable – then and now – because Carradine sang and wrote it himself).
In one of those famous moments when film critic Pauline Kael went off her rocker, she wound up calling it “the funniest epic vision of America ever to reach the screen.” But then, she was in selling mode at the time for a filmmaking ally. Critics everywhere followed suit and the emperor went on parade wearing surprisingly little clothing.
The latest overhyped “Nashville” is ABC’s watchable Wednesday TV show, which, if you believe some people, is going to cure cancer, clean up Lindsay Lohan’s act and cause every fundamentalist in the Middle East to start behaving rationally.
OK, I exaggerate. Not by much.
The show is good – a notch or two past “just OK” on the New Show meter. It has a lot to recommend it – especially the music, supervised by the deservedly lionized T-Bone Burnett. It’s also overblown, high-gloss soapy TV hoo-ha in the “Dallas”/“Dynasty” style that always gets ratings and the sort of instant, premature nostalgia that overcomes people when they know they’re watching trash.
In other words, it’s a guilty pleasure.
But without the guilt.
And a lot of the pleasure, too.
Pedigree it has, which is no doubt the reason Burnett got involved (and may have influenced some storylines). He’s married to the show’s creator, Callie Khouri, who should quite rightly be eternally revered for writing “Thelma and Louise.” Her TV “Nashville” is just an intergenerational catfight between two country music divas – one a soulful, settled, middle-aged pro played by Connie Britton, the other a witchy, smirking 20-something schemer and viper played by Hayden Panettiere (who might as well have prepared for some scenes by watching silent movies starring Theda Bara and Gloria Swanson).
By way of complexity, Khouri gives Panettiere’s character a screwed-up, drug-addicted mother who can make her daughter hide in closets and cry. And she gave Britton a veritable trifecta of soaps to foam into bubbles at every plot turn. She has an evil, wealthy father (Powers Boothe) who seems to have taken J.R. Ewing lessons, a jealous, conniving sister (Judith Hoag), a bandleader ex-lover (Charles Esten) she hankers for even now when he’s working for her young rival, and an ambitious, weak-willed husband (Eric Close) who has long wanted to know when it will be his time in the sun.
Let’s give the ABC network props. It does have a way with shameless schlock, which is what “Nashville” is, not-so-deep in its trivial heart. ABC’s “Revenge” is a slick and often smart fantasy about class war in the Hamptons featuring all sorts of toxic and homicidal hijinks from the 1 percenters – the kind that we 99 percenters often fear they’re secretly up to.
“Castle,” on the other hand, has a 1 percenter hero whose working class princess (and, this season, bedfellow) is a cop who could, if she wanted to, put him in a full body cast with just one or two flicks of the wrist.
The “Nashville” deck is stacked so steeply for the older diva (c’mon; she’s played by Connie Britton) that I almost feel sorry for Panettiere going through all that silent film vamping and soap opera bitchery. If this were a blackjack table in Michael Chiklis’ casino in the season’s most popular newbie, “Vegas,” sheriff Dennis Quaid would have to step in with his big old carbine and enforce truth, justice and the American way.
Except for Burnett’s music and Britton, score this season’s municipally named TV shows a win for “Vegas,” not “Nashville.”
Among the myths sometimes harbored out in the world is that all media folks belong to a big, unofficial club where they see each other and yuk it up together all the time. The only TV people I’ve ever spent actual social time with are Peter Ostrow, medical correspondent (and not an actual employee) of Channel 4, and Irv Weinstein.
I used to run into Carol Jasen (now Carol Crissey Nigrelli), Van Miller and radio’s John Otto at the movies, just as I often now run into WBEN’s Bob Stilson. I’ve enjoyed all of their company immensely, especially Miller, an all-purpose broadcaster of the sort who doesn’t begin to exist anymore and one of the more delightful people you could ever hope to meet. I even found Otto – whose political and social views were diametrically opposite at best – fun to talk movies and TV with when encountered privately.
Of Buffalo’s current TV news people, there are only two I wish I knew better – “Easy” Ed Kilgore of Channel 2 and Keith Radford of Channel 7. For some reason, I’ve never had professional occasion to exchange more than 10 words with either one, and I’ve always suspected that both are even more genial gents out in the world than they are on TV.
Kilgore may not be as incisive in some ways as he was when he started out at Channel 2, but, his chortling on-air likability is about as much as any local sports personality should be expected to possess. Only those who had likability bypass surgery decades ago and have spent the years since hoping to witness others’ decline could miss it.
My own personal Kilgore deficiency has now been remedied. He has written a book, which is widely available around town. It’s (rather wretchedly) called “As I’ve Seen It: Wide Right, No Goal and Other Buffalo Sports Sagas,” and it’s published by Western New York Wares (192 pages, $15.95). (That’s the publishing company of our News colleague Brian Meyer, who, in his relationship to me as book editor, has rigorously maintained a separation of church and state. It was Kilgore from whom I learned about the book in a cold call.)
The book isn’t only about sports, needless to say, but about Kilgore’s entire Buffalo professional life, full of foolishness and misjudgments, but as likable between covers as he has always been on the tube. And that’s really saying something.