Exec. Producer: Why Death Had To Come To ‘Army Wives’

Richard Bryant on Army Wives (Lifetime)

Richard Bryant on Army Wives (Lifetime)

Lifetime’s “Army Wives” is the rare television show that is peaking, both creatively and in popularity, in its fifth season. A recent episode in which one of the show’s original characters, Jeremy (Richard Bryant), was killed in combat in Afghanistan garnered the series’ highest ratings ever. The drama fills a unique niche in the cable landscape. Not only is it one of the few series about military life, it’s neither a procedural nor a dark character study. It’s an unabashedly earnest and emotional show about realistic situations. Executive producer Jeffrey Melvoin explained why the series decided it was time for a combat death, how the loss of Jeremy will impact every other character on the show, and why this is “Army Wives” best season yet.

“Army Wives” Scores Record High Ratings

On How The Decision Was Made To Kill A Main Character: I had a discussion with Joann Alfano and Nina Lederman of Lifetime while we were on hiatus between seasons four and five. When we talked about where the show could go in season five, and we talked about it being a shorter season – they wanted to do thirteen episodes – and we talked about after four years how mature the show is now, and what could we do to maximize that.  And my feeling was that after four years it was time that we show a casualty within the families of the show. We’ve had casualties before, but not of a service person who is immediately close to anybody. In season five it wouldn’t look cheap, and it wasn’t going to be done sensationally because it seemed like after four years we had such a loyal audience that had come to identify with these characters. We had the opportunity to have an impact as if they were losing a loved one. I thought that was something worth exploring… Each one of us after that conversation had different thoughts about who it should be and then we had misgivings about doing it all. But then when we got back to write the season, I suggested it should be Jeremy and gave the reasons and they jumped on board. They supported it one hundred percent.

On Why Jeremy Was the Soldier Who Died: There was a practical aspect to it, thinking about the ultimate impact on the series. If we killed one of the husbands, than that wife could certainly stick around but no longer has a direct army involvement as a widow. I think that when you do a series of this nature, which is an entertainment vehicle, we take our obligation to the source material very seriously. But we are an entertainment vehicle and, as such, I think we have an obligation to provide a measure of hope and happiness in addition to the tragedy and conflict we present. My judgment was,  to kill off Michael (Brian McNamara), to kill off Frank (Terry Serpico) or Chase (Jeremy Davidson) – would have it would have hurt the audience in a way that they couldn’t perhaps recover from? I felt that Jeremy was a fascinating character in that he had come a long way from the pilot in which he was having anger issues and lashing out at his mother physically. [He] turned down the offer of West Point only to find himself enlisting after embarrassing himself, [he] loses his best friend, becomes suicidal, gets the help that he needs, finds a beautiful woman that he falls in love with and he’s going to get married, has a baby sister, has everything in front of him – and then his life is tragically cut short. I thought the impact of that was going to be tremendous but Denise (Catherine Bell) and Frank, thank God, have another child. Tanya’s (Erin Krakow) going to reappear in the series and does have the opportunity to indicate how life goes on [even thought they will] never repair that hole in their hearts. It seemed something that we could work with as a series. It took less tools out of our hands by losing that character than losing other characters.

Watch The Highest-Rated Episode Of “Army Wives”:

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On The Lingering Impact of Jeremy’s Death: For Frank and Denise, we’re trying to be responsible and show they’re going to have a rough time. Many couples break up after the death of a child. It’s a horrible thing for any couple no matter how close they are to go through. So the next [few] episodes are going to be very rough for them as a couple. For the rest of the season, we’ll be responsible about showing how the sadness never goes away.

Roland (Sterling K. Brown)  is definitely having difficulty confronting his sense of loss. He’s a psychiatrist. He took a soldier who is suicidal and got him to a place where he was emotionally healthy enough to go back into battle and then he gets killed. Roland is not having a good time dealing with both the loss and his feeling of guilt about sending this young man back to be killed. That ends up having somewhat of a life affirming repercussion for Joan (Wendy Davis) and for him, which I will not [reveal].

For Roxy (Sally Pressman) and Trevor (Drew Fuller), Roxy suddenly starts getting very frightened about Trevor not coming home. She finds out that he was with Jeremy when he was killed. Roxy was introduced in the series as a very feisty, independent  survivor. There’s a little Scarlet O’Hara, in my mind, in Roxy. I think when she feels threatened she’s going to take steps to protect herself both emotionally and economically in a way that makes her feel like she can survive so that has some repercussions that goes all the way to the point where Trevor comes home.  It really jeopardizes their relationship.

Pamela (Brigid Brannagh) and Chase, she’s worried that with Jeremy’s death she doesn’t know where Chase is. He comes home and she realizes how much she misses him. She doesn’t want to spend her life away from him. So [Jeremy] has a positive impact on their lives.

For Claudia Joy (Kim Delaney) and Michael, in the next episode, Michael has to be a strong leader but Michael is concerned about the larger picture… He makes an offhand comment to a diplomat who is over there and the diplomat reams him out and does not quote Michael directly, but everyone in the Pentagon knows where it came from. Michael’s career is suddenly in jeopardy. That you can attribute directly to Jeremy’s death, because it’s Jeremy’s death that leads to Trevor being upset when Michael comes to talk to Trevor about what a fine job he did… Trevor is upset. He thinks part of the problem is that the Afghan army wasn’t prepared for this mission and that the overall reliance on the Afghans was what created this situation that led to Jeremy’s death… [Michael’s] just told Trevor he’s got to deal with it and he’s told Trevor how to concentrate on the mission, but… when he’s talking to his people he makes an remark and it ends up becoming part of a New York Times op-ed piece. We thought that was very real world and also very true to what happens at the higher levels of command. You’ve got to be very, very careful who you talk to.  When he comes home, his problems continue to multiply. Claudia Joy, missing him, is also working with Grant Chandler (Harry Hamlin)… She tries to help Denise and Denise is in a bad place. It puts Claudia Joy in a very bad place emotionally because it brings up feelings about her daughter so she gets emotional about him as well because she’s so used to taking care of other people that she just runs out of fuel and hits an emotional low.

On Why The Show Is Hitting Its Stride In Its Fifth Season: One of the things we’ve been able to do this season, which was only possible after so many years, is we were able to show the effect of longterm deployment on a marriage because we deployed the soldiers of the 413th last year in an 18-episode season, and we’re not bringing them back until [the ninth episode.]… That’s fourteen episodes in which the husbands and wives have been separated. It was only possible because of the history of the show. It wouldn’t have meant as much if we didn’t know them as well.

In terms of the momentum, I give the Lifetime marketing department credit for how they promoted [Jeremy’s death]. We didn’t conceive of it as a marketing gimmick or a gimmick of any kind. But I think they did an excellent job of letting the audience know that big things were coming this season. I think they presented it in a tasteful and genuinely suspenseful way. People responded to that and what was very gratifying to me about the response is that episode itself wasn’t like who killed J.R. , like once you know who the victim is, the air goes out of the balloon. Quite the opposite. Once people knew, the drama just deepens. I liken what we’re doing to a big splash in a pond… We thought we had a really rare opportunity to show how one individual death reverberates through so many different lives. In that way we thought we were both doing a service to military families, bringing awareness to the fact that one percent of our country is fighting these wars overseas and they deserve our attention, our respect and our gratitude.  At the same time, any good war picture is ultimately an anti-war picture.  As much as we honor military families and their sacrifices, I think something like this has so much impact on people that you wonder why so many people have to die in our conflicts. That’s my highest hope for it.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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