Locally shot ‘Army Wives’ to premiere tonight

Source: The Post and Courier
Date: June 3, 2007

The hard days are past, the finagling finished, the show’s shot, the premiere set.

Now, the real action starts.

“Army Wives,” filmed and set in Charleston, makes its debut at 10 tonight on Lifetime.

The cable channel has high hopes for the ensemble drama, mounting a large publicity campaign and banking on the star wattage of established actresses Kim Delaney and Catherine Bell.

And as the show goes, so might Charleston’s future in the television/film industry. Should “Army Wives” thrive, it bodes well for future series or shoots in the Lowcountry. At the least, the program’s stars are guardedly optimistic regarding prospects for a second season.

“I feel pretty confident,” says Bell, who plays a housewife with an abusive teenage son. “TV’s a wild animal. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes … but people really like it. They’re interested in the characters and that’s really what good storytelling is.”

Being on cable, rather than a network, helps.

“There are no guarantees in the business,” says Sterling K. Brown, who plays psychiatrist Roland Burton. “But because we are on cable, they tend to give their shows a little bit more room to breathe. They don’t have to have the same sort of viewership that network television has.”

“Army Wives” shot its pilot in September and October. Cast and crew returned in February to finish the 13-episode series. Filming continues through mid-July. All told, they’ve enjoyed the region’s charm and cuisine.

“It’s not like people are unfriendly out in Los Angeles, but the Southern hospitality, specifically here, it’s a little unnerving because you think it’s a put-on,” says Drew Fuller, starring as solider Trevor LeBlanc. “Everyone here says, ‘Thank you, sir,’ and, ‘Please,’ after everything. It’s very nice.”

The premiere itself features a few Lowcountry sights, such as Hibernian Hall, the decommissioned Naval Base and the former Big Deck Daddy’s bar in North Charleston.

Plus, Mount Pleasant’s own John White Jr. plays Finn, an adorable tyke.

“He’s smart. He’s funny,” says Sally Pressman, who stars as his mom, the sassy Roxy LeBlanc. “I think most of the stuff that we end up taking in the final cut is stuff he does on his own.”

Besides Charleston, the premiere introduces viewers to four women and a man bonding over the soldiers they love and a secret they share.

Rather than the action overseas, the show centers on the struggles of the families and spouses at home.

An example: Brown’s wife on the program, Joan (Wendy Davis), just returned after a two-year stint in Afghanistan. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Just the act of coming together and being a couple again is a trial in and of itself,” he says.

Friendships are made, trust gained, common hopes and interests cultivated.

“It’s rare that you laugh out loud or cry reading a script, and I do both every time,” says Bell, best known for her role on “JAG.”

“All the girls are sitting around drinking and talking about their sex lives. It’s just so real and so touching, and it’s really like the way women really talk, the way people really talk.”

The actors hope to stay true to those women, soldiers and their stories. Recently, they participated in a function hosted by Operation Homefront, meeting several actual Army wives. The nonprofit organization provides emergency assistance and moral support to U.S. troops and their families.

“They’re strong women. They stick together,” says Delaney, who stars as the stylish wife of a colonel. “They have to take care of everything back here.”

But they also aired concerns about the series, which is based on a book called “Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives” by Tanya Biank.

“I think they had some anxiety that we’d portray them as gossipy and whiney women,” Pressman says. “And we told them (the show) was about strong, opinionated, independent women. We’re trying our best to represent that.”

Now, if only the audience follows.

“I think the show has a lot of heart,” Brown says. “They will laugh. They will cry. There are a lot of characters where hopefully viewers see reflections of themselves.”