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Why This Will Be ‘Nashville’s’ Final Premiere

Sudden double-digit ratings drops, new series lows, and a conspicuous omission among early renewals make Season 5 seem highly unlikely

Nashville’s spring premiere is tonight — and fans should prepare for it to be the last.

The ABC drama is one of those shows that every season feels like it won’t come back. This time, that’ll probably be true.

After all, ABC has already handed out early renewals to 15 series, and “Nashville” was not among them. Here’s what was: “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” “The Bachelor,” “Black-ish,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” “The Goldbergs,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “The Middle,” “Modern Family,” “Once Upon a Time,” “Scandal,” “Shark Tank” and “Quantico.”

So, a lot of shows.

Of course, “Nashville” has not officially been canceled yet — and executives have even recently offered support to bring it back for Season 5.

Paul Lee addressed the future of “Nashville” in January at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, giving the Hayden Panettiere/Connie Britton country music drama a vote of confidence.

“We don’t have any plans to finish ‘Nashville,'” Lee said at the time. “We have an incredibly passionate audience. The ‘Nashville’ audience grows by a large amount in our delayed viewings. So we make all of these decisions when we sit down in May; but, no, at this point, no plans for ‘Nashville’ other than to keep it going.”

There’s just one problem: Lee got fired just a few weeks later. The decision now lies with ex-Drama head Channing Dungey, who is the new ABC Entertainment president. On Tuesday, Brian Morewitz was officially given Dungey’s old job, leading Drama Development.

Those two will have to study “Nashville’s” Nielsen ratings sheets pretty closely before they keep it or kill it. Though those same statistics probably at least partially explain why “Nashville” was left off ABC’s early list. One ABC insider assured TheWrap that we won’t officially learn the series’ ultimate fate until May’s upfront.

“Nashville’s” most-recent episode — its fall finale — dropped to an all-time series low 0.8 rating in the key 18-49 demographic, and delivered a new rock bottom 4.137 million total viewer, per Nielsen’s Live + Same Day data.

For what it’s worth, the October 2012 “Nashville” series premiere landed a 2.8 rating in the main demo, and 8.928 million viewers overall. That’s an admittedly unfair comparison, but it provides a little context on the overall decline to-date.

Of course, viewing habits have changed in the past few years, and “Nashville’s” numbers look a bit better — or at least, more robust — in Nielsen’s “most current” ratings, which include seven-day delayed viewing where available. But those are still down substantially this year.

Here’s the evidence:

“Nashville” Season Averages
2012-13: 2.4 demo rating/7.088 million total viewers
2013-14: 2.3/7.204 million
2014-15: 2.3/7.666 million
2015-16: 2.0/6.882 million

That current 2.0 average ties “Nashville” for 54th place overall across broadcast TV primetime series — and it slots the show at least four-tenths of a rating point lower than any dramas that have already been renewed. The total viewer change from last season to this one marks the first decline in series history — and it was by double digits. So was the demo number, which was down even heavier on a percentage basis.

In other words, the show named after Music City needs a miracle.

The critical and fan experience for “Nashville” seem to follow a similar pattern, or at least an apparent trajectory. The good news is that the below viewer scores are still pretty good in the grand scheme of things.

But are they good enough to offset lackluster ratings trending in the wrong direction? Probably not.

Here are the Metacritic User Score’s for each season thus far:
Season 1: 7.4
Season 2: 8.1
Season 3: 8.2
Season 4: 7.0

“Nashville” returns tonight at 10/9c on ABC. So, will this next batch of 11 episodes be the show’s swan song? Sounds like it.