Nashville tries to capitalize on TV spotlight

Actresses Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere speak onstage at a "Nashville" panel on July 27, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California.

The city of Nashville is making the most of its new primetime spotlight. The ABC show bearing its name – starring Connie Britton and Hayden Penettiere premiers tonight Wednesday night.

Tourism officials say they couldn’t have written a better script themselves. If it weren’t enough that the show is spending $4 million per episode to shoot on location, the opening footage rolls like a set of skyline glamour shots to a soundtrack.

“There are billboards and posters and signs all over LA and New York that just say ‘Nashville,’” says Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I mean, I couldn’t buy it.”

The state of Tennessee did pony up $7.5 million in incentives with more expected to come from city coffers if the show makes it. The primetime soap opera didn’t just fall in Nashville’s lap. It’s the brainchild of a local executive.

“It’s more about the city than really any other show I can think of,” says Steve Buchanan, who is listed as an executive producers of the show.  

The Tennessee native is also an executive with Ryman Hospitality Properties, which owns country music attractions in Nashville, like the Grand Ole Opry. Not by coincidence, his company’s holdings are prominently featured. Buchanan says he does want to drive tourists to town, though he says the artistic quality of the TV program comes first.

“It’s critical for the show to succeed for us to ultimately be able to enjoy the other benefits,” he says.

But locations with face time in the show are already prepping for a bump. One of the supporting characters is a waitress at the Bluebird Café. Actress Connie Britton’s character, Rayna James, calls venue “the mecca” in the series premier.

The Bluebird is also a hole in the wall with beer stained carpets, but it’s still a place where songwriters are discovered – Taylor Swift, to name one.  

“The risk and the balance that I’m working on is how to be able to get new carpet and have some financial help through this notoriety and still be the place that people want to play,” says Erika Wollam-Nichols, who manages the Bluebird and plays herself onscreen.

She worries more gawkers in the crowd could mean fewer record executives dropping in to discover the next hit.

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