Fox's 'Nashville': Reality Takes a Trip Down South

By by John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 14, 2007

In the increasingly unrealistic world of reality television, it turns out that Southern-fried 20-somethings can be just as self-absorbed, petty and gorgeous as their West Coast brethren.

Meet the folks of "Nashville," Fox's newest entry into the "just-barely-a-reality-show" genre, about a handful of aspiring country music singers trying to make it big in the honky-tonkin' Tennessee capital.

"Nashville," the first new network show to debut in the 2007-08 television season, comes from the same team behind "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County," MTV's stylized reality show about rich kids living the spoiled life in Cali.

"Laguna Beach," and later "The Hills" and "Newport Harbor," also on MTV, stretched the boundaries of reality TV, turning the once rough-and-tumble format with bad cinematography (remember the early years of "The Real World" and "Survivor"?) into buffed and polished mini-movies, featuring perfectly sculpted characters spewing lines that sound scripted.

We'll give this to "Nashville" -- not all its subjects are superficial snobs, and some of them do have real talent. But with the music comes plenty of soapy mini-drama about their social lives.

Of this we can be thankful: "Nashville" is not another "reality competition" series that littered the summer's television landscape. There are no celebrity judges voting off these crooners, or viewers at home text-messaging in their votes.

(Fox, however, will pair "Nashville" with its new show "The Next Great American Band" beginning next month. That show, which will precede "Nashville" at 8 p.m., is straight off the "American Idol" assembly line.)

All the slick production values and some decent music in "Nashville" can't make up for these one-dimensional subjects, and their angst over their fledgling careers grows tiresome.

Based on the pilot episode, only 28-year-old Chuck Wicks seems destined for a record contract. Still, he's boring and brooding, and we can only hope he breaks out of his funk before too long.

The producers have pegged Matt Jenkins as the lovable loser of the gang, as he tries to launch a comeback in his young career. Jenkins once played the Grand Ole Opry, and one of his songs even got a little airplay, but -- for reasons the show doesn't make clear -- he was dropped by his label.

A voice-over tells us at the start: "He's starting over in a town that doesn't give second chances."

(Be wary of that voice-over, by the way; it seems to be stuck in bad cliche mode. Listen to some of the sentences in the show's opening minutes: "It's a town that could make you or break you"; "This is a story about dreamers"; "There's no such thing as a sure thing in Nashville.")

The one standout in the group is reality television's favorite go-to type: the Person You Love to Hate. He's 26-year-old power stud Clint Moseley, an executive at his father's jet-sales business who has absolutely no musical talent or ambitions. Rather, slick Clint likes the ladies; in the pilot, he breaks the heart of one young woman (who happens to be the daughter of legendary NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw. Watch out, Clint).

You'll need a scorecard to keep track of all the singers, musicians and hangers-on who wander in and out of the action. And it's hard to tell them all apart at times, especially the half-dozen look-alike blond women who come and go.

If you take away those Southern accents and the Nashville skyline, in fact, we might as well be poolside in Orange County.

Nashville (one hour) debuts tonight at 9 on Channel 5.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company