In Depth

A Lifetime Wives’ Tale

Army Spouse Drama Thrives on Taking Risks

“Army Wives,” the highest-rated series in the history of Lifetime Television, can be highly addictive. Detailing the lives and challenges of a group of—you guessed it—Army wives (and one husband, for good measure) as their spouses are deployed or await deployment, it’s bolstered by strong performances from Kim Delaney as the colonel’s wife, Claudia Joy Holden; Catherine Bell as nurse-turned-housewife Denise Sherwood; Sally Pressman as Roxy LeBlanc, who hits the base running (in a skirt that’s too short) as she tries to escape the wrong side of the tracks; Brigid Brannagh as ex-cop Pamela Moran; and Sterling K. Brown as psychiatrist Roland Burton, whose wife, Joan, a lieutenant colonel (Wendy Davis), exhibits signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and has taken to drink.

Pamela’s pregnancy—and subsequent delivery—anchors the women, who bond under the obligation to protect one of their own when they realize Pamela is—at least this time out—a surrogate for hire in order to meet her family’s overwhelming debts.

Journalistic Roots

Loosely adapted by Katherine Fugate (“Xena, the Warrior Princess,” “The Prince and Me”) from military journalist Tanya Biank’s “Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006), the series is produced by the Mark Gordon Co. and ABC Television Studios, and executive produced by Ms. Fugate, Deb Spera, Mr. Gordon and Nick Theil.

The book has a darker tone than the series and deals with more serious issues, said Maria Grasso, senior VP of series development for Lifetime. The producers want to include some of those issues, she said, “but we wanted to balance it with optimism and qualities of inspiration.”
“The further we get into the series, the more risks we can take,” said Mr. Gordon. “Once we know the fans are really committed, we can explore some of those darker stories.”

Mr. Gordon, who has some experience with risk-taking (he’s also an executive producer of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and CBS’ “Criminal Minds” and has produced a slate of feature films including “Primary Colors,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Saving Private Ryan”), said there has been no attempt to create a parallel universe to either the book or the war in Iraq.

“We took a lot from the book,” said Mr. Gordon, “and then created our own characters and used the book as a reference. We did a lot of other research, too, in order to create our own world.”
Ms. Grasso loves “the buzz” surrounding the show—“the number of people who love it and are eager for it to come back on. Both men and women are coming to the set to see it. It’s about unsung heroes.

“Military bases are a microcosm of American society,” she said, “and these people are incredibly heroic, fighting the war at home.”

Ms. Grasso is proudest, she said, of “the quality on the show, the experience and professionalism on every single level: the writing, directing, acting, the music, the costuming—everything. There are so many people [working on the show] who say the show touches them personally, and there’s an honesty and authenticity that we were striving for first, that’s still ongoing.”

“We want to try and make it real,” said Mr. Gordon, “and at the same time make it entertaining.”
The series is shot in Charleston, S.C., and uses locals “as much as possible,” Mr. Gordon said, which adds to the authenticity of the show.

Ms. Biank, an Army daughter and Army wife who has lived on military posts much of her life, wrote about the 2002 Fort Bragg murders of Army wives, which led the Army to change its policy on domestic violence.