Connie Britton and Reba McEntire play country queens this fall on ABC

On ABC’s promising upcoming sudser Nashville – an hour-long drama that’s a little bit country (music) and a little bit political/family potboiler — Connie Britton stars as a fortysomething songbird who finds her career impinged upon by a marginally-talented but brilliantly-marketed youthful sex bomb, played by Hayden Panettiere.

While TV types have had a field day guessing which real-life Nashville doyenne and ingénue the ladies’ characters might be based upon, one country legend simply asked Britton outright.

“I ran into Reba McEntire on a plane and she said, ‘Did you hear that they’re saying that you’re playing me in your show?’” Britton told TV writers at the Television Critics Association summer press tour this week. “I said, ‘No. I had no idea.’”

But the two have something in common, anyway. McEntire herself will star in the network’s quirky sitcom Malibu Country, in which she plays Reba McKenzie, a jilted, middle-aged country songbird trying to revive her career far away from Nashville on SoCal’s sunny shores.

McEntire said that while Malibu’s fish-out-water storylines are indeed inspired by her own relocation from Nashville to Los Angeles with her husband Narville Blackstock and their son Shelby, playing a role like Britton’s might hit a little too close to home.

“I like this [role] better,” she said. “I’m in that business for true life. I want to play an imaginary character having fun in Malibu. Now, guest‑starring on [Nashville] — that would be a hoot. I’d like to do that. I’d get to play Reba in this one and then go over there and maybe play Reba McEntire as a guest spot. That’s a pretty good idea!”

But she may have to wait a while to make the trip from Malibu to Nashville.

“We’re really focused on our cast of real country artists,” said Nashville executive producer R.J. Cutler, adding that the performers who serve as Britton’s and Panettiere’s backing bands are all well regarded Nashville musicians. “It’s not a cameo‑driven show. … But in terms of featuring other artists and throwing focus to them, we’ll be open to it as it serves story.”

In the meantime, if Britton — who, along with Panettiere, warbles ably in the series — is basing Nashville’s Rayna James on a particular country diva (I vote Faith Hill but with way more family drama), she isn’t saying.

“For me, it’s sort of an amalgam of a lot of different people,” Britton said. “I think it’s really fun to take from that sort of palette and then just really let this lone character emerge.”

Nashville premieres Oct. 10 at 10/9CT
Malibu Country premieres Nov. 2 at 8:30/7:30CT

Photos and video: ABC

About Lori Acken

Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.
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