Denise Sherwood tugs on her necklace as she watches her husband board the bus. There are no tears, but her sullen look reveals her fears as the Army major embarks on a three-month tour of duty in the Middle East.
An all too familiar scene around the country these days, it’s one played out in the pilot episode of the new Lifetime ensemble drama, “Army Wives,” about the lives of the women – and one man – left behind when their soldier spouses go off to war.
Premiering Sunday, the 13-episode series is billed as one of the biggest summer launches in the history of the female-focused cable channel.
“I wanted to make the premiere a special event,” says Lifetime entertainment chief Susanne Daniels, who has high hopes for the show.
During the past few seasons, the once top-rated network has failed to garner a hit original series. So Daniels is using “Army Wives” – based on the book “Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives” by Tanya Biank – to anchor a slate of new scripted projects designed to flip the channel’s fortunes.
The series centers on the stresses of military life for civilian spouses and the unlikely camaraderie between five of those sharing a common bond: the soldiers they each love. It stars Kim Delaney as Claudia Joy Holden, the respected colonel’s wife, and Catherine Bell as Sherwood, a housewife with a violent teenage son.
“There have always been stories about the home front during war,” says executive producer Mark Gordon (“Grey’s Anatomy”). “But we haven’t seen anything really about what’s going on today with the women and men whose husbands or wives are in the military here at home or overseas.”
Unlike the failed FX drama “Over There,” about soldiers on the front lines, or CBS’s “The Unit,” which tells the stories of both the covert operatives in the field and their significant others at home, “Army Wives” dwells entirely on the families back on the base.
” ‘Over There’ was a great series, but most people have a harder time relating to what’s going on over there than they do what’s going on over here,” Gordon says.
“And whether you believe in the war or you don’t believe in the war, our show is not in any way political,” he adds.
“These are the heroes at home,” says Delaney, 45, on the phone from Charleston, S.C., where the series is filmed. “These are the women that take care of the kids, the houses and themselves.”
Delaney and the cast recently spent time with military spouses of the nonprofit support group, Operation Home Front.
“It’s amazing how passionate they are about what their spouses do,” Delaney says. “The Army wives all take care of each other, but there is a code … a pecking order.”
While Delaney’s character would be at the top of that order, Sally Pressman’s Roxy LeBlanc is somewhere near the bottom.
The 25-year-old newcomer gives a standout performance in the series as the sassy Southern mother of two from the wrong side of the tracks who is newly wedded to her soldier boy after knowing him for only a few days.
“She’s really the audience’s window into the world,” Pressman says of LeBlanc, “because she knows just as little as anyone else would.”
The one man on the base not in khakis is Sterling K. Brown’s Roland Burton, a psychiatrist struggling with being one of the “wives.” But he’s also coping with the post-traumatic episodes of his wife, a lieutenant colonel just returned from the war.
“He’s not military, so he can’t bond with the men, and he’s not really one of the women, so as an Army husband, he’s in a very interesting place,” says Brown, 31.
“When the husbands are gone, most military wives have their children, so the nest is not completely empty. Whereas my character, when his wife leaves, it’s just him, and he cannot have a family unless his wife is willing to put her military career on hold.”
The show had been pegged early on as “Desperate Housewives” on an Army base, but for Delaney, it’s so much more.
“I don’t want to say that it’s heavier because it’s not,” she says. “There’s actually joyful moments. It’s funny. It’s romantic. It’s tragic. It’s about real life.”
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