$$$ Millions for ‘Nashville’ Production, But No Clear Benefits

Published July 3, 2013

Nashville’s famous Broadway Street is crowded with tourists year-round, but it’s hard to find even one visitor who regularly watches the ABC drama “Nashville,” which state officials subsidized with taxpayer money to advertise the city.

At least that’s what Tennessee Watchdog discovered when it visited the one part of Nashville that most heavily showcases the city’s rich musical heritage.

Broadway Street has a large number of juke joints and honky-tonks. The Ryman Auditorium, where Hank Williams Sr. and Johnny Cash performed in the 1950s, is nearby.

Michigan residents Doug and Rita Kochis were in Nashville this week to see Broadway and a few other sites.

Have they ever watched “Nashville” on ABC?

“I’ve seen the show, but not faithfully,” Rita Kochis said.

No Bearing on Visit Decision

Did the show have any bearing on their decision to visit?

“No. We would have come anyway,” she said.

Of the 11 other tourists who spoke to Tennessee Watchdog, only one other person had seen “Nashville.” The remainder said they had never seen a single episode. All who were interviewed said the show had no influence on their visit.

“Nashville” ended its first season on ABC in May of this year. The show’s first episode aired nearly a year ago. State officials gave “Nashville” producers $8.5 million to film on location during its first season.

Report Months Away

Laura Elkins, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, which distributed the money, said her agency still does not know how well the investment paid off for Tennessee taxpayers during season one.

“We won’t have a number until we receive the CPA’s report. Due to the recent ending of season one, it will take several months for a third-party independent CPA to conclude an audit on the matter,” Elkins said.

As Tennessee Watchdog reported in July, state officials will give the series’ producers an additional $12.5 million for its second season.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has promised an additional $500,000 beyond that.

‘Branding Opportunity’

ECD officials see the ABC series, and other film and TV productions in the state, as “branding opportunities”—similar to tourism outreach.

“According to network figures, some 8.2 million people have viewed each episode of the show, all 26, between the network broadcasts and online streaming services. That is advertising we could never buy,” Elkins said.

“Nashville,” like many adult primetime dramas, depicts city residents involved in blackmail, adultery, and drug use, among other typical soap opera story lines.

Messages left seeking comment from Lionsgate Entertainment of California, which produces “Nashville,” were not returned.

As part of the branding campaign, ECD officials also have awarded $302,000 in taxpayer money to a Robin Williams film, “Boulevard,” which Elkins said takes place in Nashville and was filmed on location last month.

Officials with the film’s production company, Camellia Entertainment, told state officials they would spend $1.2 million in Tennessee.

Camellia Entertainment had no contact information available on its website and could not be reached for comment.

Tennessee Money, California Spending

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office released a report earlier this year highly critical of the state’s film incentive program. The report said out-of-state production companies took advantage of the state’s generosity with taxpayer money, perhaps as much as $18 million, and redirected that money to California, without spending much in Tennessee.

Elkins told Tennessee Watchdog that state officials have since put new controls in place designed to keep that money in-state.

“We are mindful of the need for a better return on investment from the state’s film program,” Elkins said.

“We also do not plan to try to compete with states like Georgia and Louisiana, which spend hundreds of millions annually competing for major motion picture productions.”

Elkins did not offer specifics on when the CPA will release its report on how much money “Nashville” brought to the state during its first season.

Christopher Butler ([email protected]) writes for Tennessee Watchdog. Used with permission of Watchdog.org.