ABC's 'Nashville' Premieres: Will You Watch the Battle of the Country Queens?

Connie Britton heads back to the small screen as a country music icon, who is struggling to stay relevant

ABC's new drama, Nashville (premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET), is about the country music biz, politics and the power struggles that crop up in both. It's also about the triumphant return of Connie Britton to your TV set. After wowing viewers on Friday Night Lights and American Horror Story, the beloved actress is finally headlining a series. Granted, she shares the spotlight with Heroes' alum Hayden Panettiere, but that fact only accentuates the narrative the series will tell.

Britton, 45, plays Rayna, a country music icon whose career is fading. Panettiere, 23, plays a sexy country newcomer, Juliette, whose star is rising fast. From the moment Rayna is forced to open for Juliette, the two are rivals. Britton told USA Today that several different country stars inspired her character, including Faith Hill, Reba McEntire, Patty Loveless and Bonnie Raitt. Panettiere didn't mention any direct muses for the Juliette character, but said she took dance cues from watching Carrie Underwood

"She's one of those girls that doesn't do the whole dancing-around-choreography thing but has that stage presence like no other," Panettiere said. "She can just stand there and be incredibly interesting."

The conflict between traditional, authentic country music and the sexier, pop version actually began heating up more than a decade ago, when Shania Twain barnstormed the industry with her teeny outfits and Top 40 tunes. (Remember "Man, I Feel Like A Woman" and "You're Still the One"?) But the dichotomy remains today, with pop-oriented singers like Underwood and Taylor Swift still hoarding most of the radio airtime and glory. Bonnie Raitt's still around, but she's not making headlines for her music, or, for that matter, tempestuous relationships with guys like John Mayer.

But Nashville is definitely not a sad testament to this phenomenon. "My hope with this show is to not dwell too much on the, 'Oh, well once you hit 40, the business doesn't want you anymore,'" Britton told USA Today. "Because frankly, that's not my experience. I've been able to play some of the most interesting characters and have had some of the greatest success once I hit 40."

Lots of TV pundits agree. Mary McNamara of The L.A. Times is among the many critics calling Britton one of the "reasons to watch" Nashville.

And, not a fan of country music? Who cares! "[Nashville] is far from a show about country music," says Callie Khouri, the show's creator, who also happens to have picked up an Oscar for writing the screenplay for Thelma and Louise. "It has characters that are real, they're layered, they're complicated, they're terrible, they're fantastic, they're all the things that people are."

Consider our interest piqued! Take a look at what's in store tonight:

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