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It's been a crazy ride for Nashville in 2016, both within the fictional narrative and behind the scenes. After surviving a cancellation at ABC, the show was resurrected for more music-tinged hyperdrama at CMT, though that meant a few cutbacks on the character front. Now it looks like a big part of Season 5 might be happening without lead actress Connie Britton's Rayna James, as it has been revealed the actress' contract doesn't even cover half of the episodes.
Nashville was picked up at CMT for a 22-episode fifth season, which is standard on the broadcast networks, but Connie Britton seems to have more of a cable drama deal happening. Her contract is only set for ten episodes, and if that remains the case, we'll either only get to sporadically catch up with Rayna's latest familial and/or romantic foils, or the Grammy-winning hitmaker might meet her maker in some manner around the season's midpoint. I'm not saying I want it to happen, but you know how things go.
It does make some sense that Connie Britton might have wanted to keep her options open when locking herself in for more Nashville. Following the show's initial axing, the actress said she was torn about her feelings, obviously not wanting to leave behind a gig that she loved dearly, but also very happy to able to return home to Los Angeles without worrying about spending such a huge chunk of the year on location in Nashville. It's possible Britton just wanted to take a wade through the drama's latest season rather than diving in headfirst.
According to EW, sources are also torn about what Rayna's future is. Some are saying this is definitely going to be Britton's last season, while others are claiming her deal is not yet completely set in stone, meaning there is still time for her to rethink things and agree to appear for the entire season. At this point, it really depends on the actress, and whether she thinks plans for Rayna are worth sticking around for. (She'll be teaming up with an affluent app developer who tells her he wants to bring her music to new audiences, all while hiding his darker true intentions.)
On the flip side of the female lead front, there will reportedly be no worrying about co-star Hayden Panettiere, who is set to return as Juliette Barnes for the entirety of Season 5. That's especially comforting, considering that cliffhanger set her up for a completely different fate. Almost everyone else from the main cast will be back as well, though we won't be seeing Will Chase's Luke Wheeler or Aubrey Peeples' Layla Grant anymore.
Nashville is set to return to audiences for Season 5 when it debuts on CMT on Thursday, January 5. To see what's coming to TV before then, check out our fall premiere schedule.