Show: "Army Wives"
What You'll See: You might call it "Not-So-Desperate Housewives." Filled with implausible storylines and more drama than Britney, Lindsay and Paris combined, "Army Wives" centers on a motley crew of women -- and one man -- who share life's ups and downs while their military spouses fight abroad or dither about at Fort Marshall. There's the upstanding Claudia Joy Holden (Kim Delaney), who seems to have the perfect marriage; sassy barmaid Roxy LeBlanc (Sally Pressman), who marries her husband on a whim at the start of the first episode and parades about in a thong in a ladies' room just a few scenes later; prim Denise Sherwood, whose son smacks her about when daddy's away; timid-then-triumphant Pamela Moran (Brigid Brannagh), who initially serves as a surrogate for two just-about-to-be-born kids and hides the fact from the rest of the base; and Roland Burton (Sterling K. Brown), the one male "wife" who must deal with his ultra-aggressive spouse and her post-traumatic stress disorder upon her return from duty overseas.
In the first three episodes, viewers are given a never-ending litany of events that threaten domestic strife. There are gossipy rivals on base who would love nothing better than to dig up dirt on Claudia Joy or on Pamela's surrogacy or on Roxy's up-from-the-sticks background. But the group forms close ties almost immediately, ready to tackle everything from deranged soldiers to afternoon tea parties. Keep in mind this is Lifetime, where top advertisers include conservative marketers such as Procter & Gamble, Kraft Foods, Johnson & Johnson and Nestle. So the highs never get too high and the lows are never too low. If "Army Wives" were a carnival ride, it would probably be the kiddie coaster -- it's got just enough bumps and dips to keep you looking for the next one.
When You'll See It: Sundays at 10 p.m. on Lifetime (the series started June 3 and continues for 13 weeks). Lifetime has already picked up the program for a second season of 18 episodes, noting that "Army Wives" is the highest-rated series in the channel's 23-year history.
What's at Stake: For good or ill, many people know Lifetime best as a purveyor of treacly yet oddly compelling tearjerker movies about women in peril. (The channel had a good slate of original programs, including "The Division" and "Strong Medicine," but has seemed unable to build on that momentum in months past.) This summer, Lifetime has taken strides to change that, also launching programs such as "State of Mind," which features Lili Taylor as a straight-talking couples therapist. Lifetime ad executives say the channel launched "Army Wives" in June, in the midst of upfront negotiations, because there was so much confidence in it.
Lifetime will have to walk the line when it comes to subject matter, however. Making references to Iraq or Afghanistan when viewers can switch channels and see the real thing on CNN or Fox News can be fraught with more than a little danger. Take the case of FX producer Steven Bochco, who tackled these subjects head-on in 2005 with "Over There," a gritty, bloody, morally ambiguous drama focused on soldiers in the midst of battle overseas. Advertisers may find war an interesting subject, but they don't want it to appear adjacent to real-life guts and glory.
Who's Onboard: Procter & Gamble sponsored the first episode, which featured limited commercial interruptions and ads only from P&G. A Lifetime spokesman says other sponsors include AT&T and Target.
Insert Product Here? "Army Wives" seems rife with product-placement opportunities, with the characters buying clothes for husbands about to go off to war or talking to them via a camera and a laptop. Imagine a Hanes T-Shirt being portrayed as a reliable piece of gear or a Dell laptop helping bring families together. So long as the products aren't involved in scenes that involve the horrors or rigors of war, advertisers might want to inquire if any appearances are available next season.
Your Ad Here? Lifetime has devised something akin to chocolate-chip ice cream -- the flavor is mostly vanilla, but it's got just enough grit to make you perk up once in a while. Marketers with products that can be used in battle or linked to something political ought to stay away, to be sure, but anyone who can portray their goods and services as valuable to family experiences and staying together can feel free to line up in formation. This is an environment tailored for package-goods companies and others who like to make a point without being too splashy or sharp.
Media Buyer's Verdict: "As long as it really just deals with how people's lives are impacted [by war and military], then it's safer territory," said Shari Anne Brill, senior VP-director of programming at Carat USA.