Is Deacon Sticking Around 'Nashville' Next Season?

Tragedy is threatening Nashville this season, as Deacon Claybourne's life is on the line going into the Season 3 finale. The show, which was on the bubble until recently, has been renewed for Season 4. But are fans looking at a Nashville without Deacon? If star Charles Esten is leaving the show and this character behind, everyone is being awfully quiet about it.

Before I met frequent Rayna Jaymes collaborator and ex-love Deacon Claybourne, I knew Esten mostly from his "Chip" days. Credited as such, the actor made an impression on me as one of the recurring improvisors on Whose Line Is It Anyway? and then in an arc on The Office as Jim's hipper Utica boss, Josh Porter. ("The poor man's Michael Scott, as he is known around my condo.") He's also had stints on shows like Big Love and E.R., and roles in several films; but once an actor hangs with the Dundler Mifflin crew, I mentally tie them to Scranton, Penn. forever.

Until now. The much more serious and grown-up-sounding Charles Esten seems to have found a career-defining role in Deacon. Even when his storyline flags, Deacon manages to keep me engaged. Maybe it's those soulful brown eyes or his pleasingly weary "lonesome cowboy" singing voice. I assure you that my interest is purely objective. How dare you question my professionalism.

Forget Gunnar and Avery; Deacon is the show's romantic lead. And with so much of the action focusing on relationships, flirtations, and betrayal, that's a vital role. Esten is also one of the best musicians on the show. Deacon's duets with Rayna are especially affecting, wherever they are in their feelings for each other.

Esten joined his castmates on the road this spring for a Nashville cast tour. The actor-musicians (or musician-actors) visited nine cities in just about two weeks to play the show's soundtrack and their own originals live. While a few of his co-stars opted to jump in only for the tentpole dates in New York and Los Angeles, Esten hung out for the entire leg. He's also played one-off dates and festivals across the country, sometimes solo and sometimes with TV niece Clare Bowen. He's fully invested in the musical aspect of this job.

Lately, the actor's Twitter feed has been flooded with updates from the tour as well as tweets celebrating the show's Season 4 pick-up. Sharing fan reactions, birthday shout-outs to co-stars, and new music and video from the series, Esten is clearly still as committed to Nashville as I am.

If we lose Deacon this season, it definitely won't happen because his real life counterpart lost interest in the gig. And, based on this evidence, I'd bet Esten and Deacon aren't going anywhere.

Images: Mark Levine/ABC; Giphy