However, there's one group that will be especially sad if the show ends … and they couldn't care less about the fate of Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere). We're talking about the people in charge of tourism and economic development for the city of Nashville, who have been beyond thrilled at the city's unprecedented boost from the show over the past four years.
It's not as if the series put Nashville on the map: The country music capital was already a well-known destination. But officials still sound surprised at just how much "Nashville" affected the city, boosting the tourist economy, adding hundreds of production jobs and promoting local hot spots — more than they ever could have dreamed with any advertising campaign.
"It's hard to put a financial [number] on it, just because it's so broad, so big and it really has been significant," said Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp, adding that "Nashville" airs in almost 100 countries: "It would take my budget for the next 10 years to run our commercial every week in 100 countries."
The show not only put local production crews to work, but also helped individual businesses. Restaurants and clubs casually mentioned on the show (the 5 Spot, Hermitage Cafe, Crema) would get a spike in visitors. The heavily featured Bluebird Cafe went from regular haunt to must-see tourist spot. Gray Line buses started a special "Nashville" tour. Tourists would demand to know where they could find Rayna (Connie Britton) and Deacon's (Charles Esten) house.
"The visitor economy in Nashville has boomed over the time of the show, but the job growth has also boomed," said Ralph Schulz, president of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. "I can't tell you how many times the conversation starts with people who are relocating for this area, and they mention the 'Nashville' TV show as part of their awareness."
Then, when the show took off in syndication, international tour operators started calling and wanted to book special packages. The global appeal took many by surprise, particularly in Britain, where the show gained a loyal following. The cast members are a hit when they travel and perform abroad — recently, Spyridon took Esten to London for a country music festival and had to pry him away from an outrageously lengthy line of autograph seekers. Fans are similarly loyal across other continents.
"When you go to Tokyo and see 'Nashville' on a billboard, you can't measure that value of promotion to the city," Schulz said, adding, "We've had conversations with international airlines, and you would just be amazed at how much 'Nashville' figured into their interest."
But maybe even more importantly, the show authentically captured and showed off the intricacies of the city's very serious music scene — and became a high-profile outlet for songs from local songwriters. Although lots of credit goes to creator Callie Khouri (and her husband, "T Bone" Burnett, the famed record producer who served as music supervisor for the first season), cast members who played country music singers tried to be as authentic as possible with the music.
"The cast tried to learn that craft so that they weren't faking it. … and that was important to everyone in the music industry around us," Spyridon said. "You don't make fun of it, you don't take it lightly. It's at the heart of our music brand. … how they respected and treated us, that was enormous."
This is true, even if the story lines became ridiculous by the end of the fourth season: In typical prime-time drama fashion, pretty much every character had hooked up with one another, and there were lots of scandalous plots about affairs and crime and devious characters who had secret agendas.
Still, it almost always got the music right. "There was a soap opera quality to the show, but underlying it was kind of the creative initiative that is the heart and soul of Nashville," Schulz said.
Plus, it helped that the actors really did fall in love with the city. Britton bought a house, and Panettiere moved into the same Midtown Nashville high-rise as Taylor Swift. Esten became a fixture at the Grand Ole Opry, while Chris Carmack (who starred as Will Lexington) played around town to launch his own solo career.
Ultimately, all the factors came together to put Nashville in the limelight.
"We're not an overnight success because of a TV show — we were in a really good place and it was a perfect marriage," Spyridon said, noting that the show had its debut while Nashville's hospitality industry was about 18 months into a five-year growth spurt. "But I do think it shined a spotlight when we were on the rise and made a few more people take a second look."