TV Crush

Viewers Enlist in Big Numbers for Lifetime's Army Wives

6/06/2007 3:07 AM

The Army Wives launch rocked Lifetime Channel on Sunday night. The drama was the most-watched series premiere in the network’s 23-year history, averaging 3.5 million viewers during its Sunday, June 3, 10PM (ET/PT) debut.

Army Wives
also scorched the Google hot list Sunday evening as well, as we reported Monday morning. 

I have a confession to make. I don’t watch Lifetime. I’m just not a Lifetime kinda gal.  This isn’t a criticism of Lifetime. They do a great job, reaching women. But I think there’s a fairly sizeable minority of us that prefer programming largely targeted to guys - science fiction, buddy cop shows, action with plenty of cool CGI special effects. As long as the writers toss some good character development into the mix, we’ll tune in.
So imagine my surprise when I liked - liked! - Army Wives. Sure, the characters are a tad predictable:

the long-suffering, submissive wife loyal to her rigid, officer husband (check);
the almost lawyer on the verge of a brilliant career who (apparently) sacrificed all for love (check);
and, last but not least, the misfit tramp with two children (by two different men) and a heart of gold (double check!).

Some of the storylines are soapish but the casting overcomes the clichés. One couple is role-reversed - Joan Burton (Wendy Davis) is a Lt. Colonel struggling with demons after her tour in Afghanistan. Her husband Roland, a psychiatrist, is the supportive spouse trailing behind as she climbs the ranks. So the show should probably be called Army Wives plus one. Sterling K. Brown brings a caring, aching gravitas to this role, as does Davis.  And thank you! Lifetime for presenting viewers with a complex and educated, professional African-American couple.

The multiple product placement and series promotion, all neatly wrapped in a single three-minute package, took a back seat to Castro’s story. It was classy, respectful and understated. 
The Army Wives premiere episode is available for viewing on Lifetime’s Web site.

And the golden-hearted tramp? She’s Roxy LeBlanc, played with panache by Sally Pressman. With her blond locks, expressive face and southern accent, she could easily be Kyra Sedgwick’s younger sister. Roxy wears short-shorts and a low-cut, leather halter top to the ladies afternoon tea/fundraiser but she knows her way behind a bar and she mixes a mean Big Hot Hooter. (One ounce of tequila, three-quarters of an ounce of Amaretto, fill it up with pineapple juice, top it off with Grenadine and, of course, don’t forget the cherry on top - in case anyone’s interested.)

What’s not to love about this character? She and her kind, sweet young thing-of-a-husband (Drew Fuller from Charmed) - smitten after a one night stand - could be TV’s new, hot couple. Viewers certainly stampeded to Google to get a closer look.

Even Roxy’s kids are cute and believable, a rarity on television.

Lifetime aired the premiere almost without commercial interruption. The commercial tie-in was a Clairol//Cover Girl-sponsored makeover of Elizabeth Castro, a real Army wife.  The makeover was carried out by the ladies of Lifetime’s beauty series, Next Stop:New You

The focus of the three-minute tie-in was primarily on Castro and her story - her premature infant, Eva Rose, and her husband still deployed in Iraq. The camera settled on stills of him lifting Eva Rose from the incubator and pictures of the goodie bags Castro mails to Iraq. The sponsors were mentioned once or twice at most and in context. At the conclusion, Lifetime’s viewers were invited back to watch “the rest of Elizabeth’s story” on the 9p, June 22, season premiere of Next Stop: New You.

September