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‘Monarch’ Producer Jason Owen on the Show’s Music and Melodrama, Susan Sarandon’s Future and Why He Sought Wynonna Judd’s Approval

When Fox’s “Monarch” premiered to strong ratings following an NFL game on Sept. 11, there was a big sort-of-maybe cliffhanger: Can the Susan Sarandon character, touted as a series lead, really be as dead as she appeared to be at the end of the pilot? But there were other questions, too. Like: Will this be a series in which the characters are portrayed as having originated a lot of the big hits of country and pop, from “Family Tradition” to “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” to “Born This Way”? Will the middle American audience be completely down with a story that has an out lesbian character vying to become a country superstar? Do parallels with Naomi Judd’s story feel as eerie as we think they do? And did the pilot make all those millions of viewers want to come back when there’s no NFL lead-in?

Here with the answers to — or at least hints about — all of those questions is Nashville-based executive producer Jason Owen. He’s best known as one of country music’s uber-managers, guiding the careers of present or past clients including Kacey Musgraves, Shania Twain, Kelsea Ballerini, Dan + Shay, Faith Hill and Little Big Town, with occasional forays into TV. He’s made a more wholesale leap into the medium with the country-themed drama that became Fox’s most-watched fall scripted premiere in three years when it first bowed. Can the show keep it up? If not, it won’t be for a lack of melodrama, as Owen — a fan of and even former employee of the Aaron Spelling school of soapiness — strongly indicates the series has jaw-dropping developments in store, along with a soundtrack of country classics and more Music City star cameos.

Have you gotten feedback from your music-biz friends about the premiere?

The response has been great. A lot of it’s been funny because people are trying to figure out, “Is that about Shania? Is that about Kacey? Is that about when you worked at the record label?” It’s been fun to let people sort it out, or at least create that in their head.

But as far as this taking place in the country music milieu you know so well… it doesn’t feel like the show is going for exact and total verisimilitude.

No, I agree with that. [He laughs heartily.] I agree with that, dead-on.

So how much did you feel like you wanted the show to get down in the weeds reflecting real-life music industry situations, versus just going, “This is melodrama. This is fun. We don’t have to pretend that everything here has a real-life corollary”?

That (the latter) is honestly the way I felt. Look, I grew up with the Spelling-esque dramas, and I worked there when I was much younger. I love that kind of television, that soapy, over-the-top escape from reality. And I think the things that I feel responsible for inside “Monarch” are some of the things that are sort of really over the top. Melissa London Hilfers, who created the show and is the writer, who’s brilliant, agreed; we wanted the mix of soap and the fun. I always felt like “Desperate Housewives” did a great job of that.

There were things that we try to keep a lot of authenticity to. In an upcoming episode, there’s a lot of conversations about touring, and about how things are recorded, and stories about people buying out other people’s masters, things that happen all the time in our industry that probably people in Hollywood don’t really understand, that we sort of brought to brought to the top. So I think that while there is a lot of reality, it’s an over-the-top reality.

When did you work for Aaron Spelling?


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