Hollywood efforts showcasing the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts mostly have failed to muster viewers. But Army Wives marches to a different tune.
According to USA Today, the Lifestime drama quickly became the network's highest rated show when it premiered in June 2007, averaging 3.7 million viewers in its first season and topping basic cable shows among women.
The ensemble show, whose talented cast includes Catherine Bell (below), Kim Delaney and Sally Pressman, with many superb supporting actors, is based on Tanya Biank's book, Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives.
"The backdrop is very contemporary," was how Lifetime's Maria Grasso explained Army Wives' military-themed appeal, particularly among women.
"The show is apolitical. It's not for or against the war."
Instead, Army Wives deals with home-front issues confronting spouses, from post-traumatic stress syndrome and single parenthood to alcoholism and infidelity.
These matters confront scores of military families but are rarely explored in the media, says Army Wives creator Katherine Fugate.
"We see the soldiers and the battles, but we don't really know what goes on when they come back. And we never see the female perspective on war and how they sacrifice," Fugate says. "It's very real."
Catherine Bell, whose character's husband is on an 18-month deployment, says the topicality and focus resonate with a broad range of viewers.
"The response has been amazing," she says. "People are addicted to the show."
The Pentagon was wary at first, offering no help to the fledgling series during Season 1. But in Season 2, the military was more receptive, and has allowed Army Wives to incorporate hardware, personnel and military bases.
"They were concerned this was a political show," Fugate says.
"When they learned it was about personal relationships, they recognized what we're trying to do. We're getting Black Hawk helicopters and Humvees. And a military liaison reads every script to make sure things are accurate and authentic."
Writers and cast also got a chance to spend time with military spouses for perspective on their experiences.
"We were moved to tears many times," Fugate says. "Even the small stories, you can't create in your head."