Tuned In: 'Nashville' winds up first season with some secrets revealed

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- At a small house in East Nashville, Tenn. that's used as the home of Deacon Claybourne on ABC's "Nashville," actor and Carnegie native Charles "Chip" Esten rehearses a fight scene with co-stars Robert Ray Wisdom (AKA Coleman Carlisle) and Sam Palladio (AKA Gunnar Scott).

The scene they choreograph with a stunt coordinator and key second assistant director will be filmed the next day for the "Nashville" season finale (10 p.m. Wednesday, WTAE). Mr. Esten wears knee pads over his jeans to protect his knees when he falls but he comes too close to the edge of a stone coffee table for Mr. Wisdom, who exclaims, "Watch that!"

It's an intense scene with fists and objects thrown -- a bean bag in rehearsal but likely something that will cause a loud crash when the cameras roll. (The home belongs to an individual who rents it for use in "Nashville" and the set decorator, Ruby Guidara, fills it with props to make it Deacon's, including antlers hung on the dining room wall.)

'Nashville' star offers a tour of Deacon's house

Actory Charles Esten, star of ABC TV's "Nashville," takes you on a tour of Deacon's house. (Video by Rob Owen; 5/19/2013)

So why is Deacon, long-time guitarist for Faith Hill-like country singer Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton, "Friday Night Lights"), getting in a fight? That's a secret. Through the first season, viewers have learned more about the past Rayna and Deacon share, and in recent episodes the pair have reconnected romantically.

"For both of us, it seems to be everything we always wanted," said Mr. Esten, who lived in Pittsburgh until age 9 but frequently returned to visit relatives, including his father, Charles E. Puskar III, who lived in Sewickley until his death four years ago. "We're in that place we've always been meant to be but there are still a few secrets and hidden things that threaten to blow the whole thing up."

Mr. Esten plays guitar himself and has even performed several times this past year at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry House and Ryman Auditorium.

"I'm a much better guitar player than when I got here but with miles and miles to go," Mr. Esten said. "Deacon is a much better guitar player than Chip on every level but then again, I'm not fictional so I have that over him."

Mr. Esten said he tried to make it to the Steelers-Titans game last fall but he got stuck at work.

"I finished [work] right as the field goal was being kicked. My heart was broken on the radio," he said of the Steelers loss. "I wear my Steelers cap all over Nashville, where there are a lot of Titans fans, and they give me a hard time."

Titans fans may not be the only ones.

"Chip told me he was from Czechoslovakia," Ms. Britton teased back on the "Nashville" set when introduced to a reporter from his hometown newspaper.

"He told me he was from Utah," added Callie Kouri ("Thelma & Louise"), the show's creator who wrote and directed the series finale.

"Clearly he is full of Chip," Ms. Britton continued teasing.

A long season

A few miles north of downtown Nashville on the "Nashville" soundstage -- a former warehouse for the now-defunct Baker Curb NASCAR racing team -- Ms. Britton prepares to film a scene opposite the real-life sisters who play her daughters. Lennon Stella, 13, and Maisy Stella, 9, sit in chairs at a kitchen island with Ms. Britton opposite them.

"Everybody gets grumpy," Ms. Britton says in a sing-song voice prior to filming. "Wonder if we've all been here 10 months."

Not unlike the last days of school, the final days filming on a long TV season have cast and crew a bit punchy. That may be especially true for "Nashville," because it shoots thousands of miles from Los Angeles, where many cast and some crew members make their home.

"I've been here pretty much since July when we started," said Judith Hoag ("Big Love"), who plays Rayna's businesswoman sister, Tandy Wyatt. "I've gone back and forth to Los Angeles, we all have, but when I'm here I live in a hotel. I'm like Eloise at the Plaza."

Ms. Hoag has a slew of credits to her name -- including the filmed-in-Pittsburgh movie "I Am Number Four" -- but this is the longest time she's spent on location.

"We haven't really set down roots here," she said in late April before the show was renewed or canceled last week after this section's deadline. "You've got to get a second season for that."

Setting the stage

The season finale will include some twists and cliffhangers. The kitchen scene with Rayna and her daughters marks a turning point for several relationships as does a scene featuring Ms. Hoag and Powers Boothe, who plays Nashville power broker Lamar Wyatt, father of Tandy and Rayna.

Down the hill from the main stage sits another huge warehouse where many of the show's arena performance scenes are filmed.

Two-story-tall green walls are moved into position so crowd shots can be added to the background in post-production through computer graphics. For the season finale, this space has been remade into the stage for a Country Music Awards ceremony; country superstar Brad Paisley will appear as himself.

Executive producer Steve Buchanan, who played himself in last week's episode, is the show's conduit to the real Nashville music scene through his job as executive vice president of Opry Entertainment Group, which owns the Grand Ole Opry. He gives notes on scripts and helps recruit Nashville players for cameo appearances.

"I look at it as my responsibility to immerse them in Nashville and help be their guide," Mr. Buchanan said while sitting in a re-creation of The Bluebird Cafe built on the "Nashville" stage 11 miles north of the real-life Bluebird that's in a Green Hills strip mall. When a script called for interaction with "a BMI suit," Mr. Buchanan called up a real-life BMI executive and invited him to appear on the show.

Not that "Nashville" only features country music; a cover of the folksy Lumineers song "Ho Hey" has been used and there also is hipster-ish musician Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson).

"Country music is Nashville's primary musical export but there's a lot of great music being made in this town," Mr. Buchanan said. "[We're] giving people a current, contemporary view of the musical landscape that is coming from this city."

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Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published May 19, 2013 4:00 AM


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