FOX debuts docusoap Nashville tonight

A network normally known for a different kind of reality TV–American Idol and similar competitions, or ridiculously awful shows like Joe Millionaire–follows MTV’s lead tonight and debuts a docusoap reality show as its first new show of the fall. FOX’s Nashville is produced by the same people who produce Laguna Beach and The Hills, so it looks and feels a lot like that series. The show debuts at 9 p.m. ET, but has been streaming online for several days.

Nashville does change things up somewhat, besides shifting locations. The good thing is that its cast members, like Terry Bradshaw’s daughter Rachel, have more to do than sit around and complain about their problems despite being absurdly wealthy. They’re all either in or trying to break into the country music industry, although there is still personal drama, like break-ups and crushes. The bad part is that many of the conversations, even if they’re about consequential subjects (recording contracts, making it in the business, et cetera), sound exactly like this show’s west coast MTV cousins: that forced, awkward, pause-filled dialogue that’s either how real people talk or how real people talk when producers set up cameras in a telegenic location and ask them to spontaneously discuss a certain subject.

Other critics’ reactions have been mostly negative. The Los Angeles Times’ Jon Caramanica says “almost every scene on ‘Nashville’ feels ploddingly staged. Every conversation is alarmingly, and unconvincingly, topical; no scene is wasted.” The Boston Herald’s Mark A. Perigard says “the grim touch of the production crew can be felt almost everywhere, from the way singers are shoehorned into one-dimensional roles to a shabby attempt at creating a showmance.” The New York Times Virginia Heffernan says that the drama, “[t]he question of who is going to make it in the music business is instantly moot. Contracts seem already to have been doled out, and the show, by giving all of these kids a boost, has muddied the waters.” And The Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan’s reaction was, “Once again, a network commissioned a soap opera but was too cheap to hire real actors and pay for actual scripts.”

But the New York Daily News’ David Bianculli likes that “its real-life characters display a lot of talent” and “are so transparent about their emotions, whether sincere or calculating, that their social interactions play more like a scripted soap on fast forward.” And the Hollywood Reporter’s Ray Richmond says that “nearly everyone here is really, really good. They sing with confidence and harmony while simultaneously looking like a million bucks (actually, more like $2 million),” which “makes for bracing — though obviously not necessarily more honest — docu-soap viewing.”

Nashville [FOX]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.