9 p.m. Sunday, Lifetime
As happens on actual military bases, the names and faces of some “Army Wives” are changing.
When the Lifetime drama series begins its seventh season Sunday , an obvious absence will be that of founding cast member Kim Delaney ... with the departure of her character, Claudia Joy Holden, explained very early in the run. Longtime co-stars Sally Pressman and Sterling K. Brown are recurring now, but at the same time, the show is getting an influx of performers both new and familiar.
Torrey DeVitto (“Pretty Little Liars,” “The Vampire Diaries”) plays a veteran of three tours of duty in Iraq, now opting for domestic life with her staff sergeant husband (Burgess Jenkins); singer-actress Ashanti appears as a mother of three whose husband (Joshua Henry) serves overseas; Jesse McCartney, who has dual careers in singing and acting, portrays a new soldier eager to make his mark; and Elle McLemore is cast as the latter’s new, young wife, forced to build a life for herself away from other loved ones.
And midway through its new season, “Army Wives” will be joined by a particularly famous new co-star: Brooke Shields, as an Air Force pilot who proves herself a worthy opponent to Army Gen. Michael Holden (Brian McNamara) as each tries to maintain a degree of professional power.
For all the actors who are just starting their “Army Wives” tenures on location in Charleston, S.C., Kelli Williams, McNamara and Wendy Davis remain prominent on the series — as does Catherine Bell, whose alter ego Denise Sherwood remains so pivotal to the show, ABC Studios signed the popular “JAG” alum to a new contract early to ensure the drama would have at least another year.
“I’m really enjoying it,” Bell says of the rebuilding of the cast. “There are a lot of changes, and while it’s the same show, it also feels different. Denise has become the central friend people come to for different reasons, especially as the new girls try to fit in. The new characters are fun, and I think they’re nice additions. As in Army life, people get moved every couple of years, and new friendships form ... so it’s realistic, for sure.
“If anything, (the original actors and characters) got to stay together longer than most people do on a military base,” notes Bell, who adds, “I’ve met Brooke Shields several times, and she’s a sweetheart, a really nice lady. I’m excited to have her be a part of our show.”
Bell shares a reasonable amount of screen time with “Army Wives” newcomer DeVitto, particularly since both of their characters have an affinity for riding motorcycles. “She’s just been so sweet and welcoming and really great to work with,” DeVitto says. “I like and respect her so much.
“Even though this show is seven years old, I don’t know people expected it to go this long. We aren’t sure how the audience is going to react to all the changes, so I still have the same worries and fears you do when you start a new show. On the flip side, coming into a show that’s been on for seven years, the morale on the set is just beautiful. Everybody is in their rhythm and groove, and you don’t have those 16-hour days you have on a new show when you’re trying to find your footing.”
With “Army Wives” her third series running currently, it’s little surprise that DeVitto enthuses, “I love being busy! I always say I need a break, but when I actually get it, I’m just itching to get back to work after one day. What most people don’t realize is that even though I was doing 'Pretty Little Liars’ and 'The Vampire Diaries,’ there are so many cast members, I was only working two or three days per episode. Now with 'Army Wives,’ I don’t really have any days off.”
A similar work pace usually applies to DeVitto’s husband, Paul Wesley, alias the undead Stefan on The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries,” on which she recently acted in scenes with him for the first time. She also has a well-known father in the longtime drummer for music icon Billy Joel, Liberty DeVitto, and she has family ties to the real military as well.
“I don’t have relatives in the Army specifically,” she says, “but I have family in the Air Force, a couple of cousins and an uncle. And my aunt was actually a chief petty officer in the Navy for a long time. They were all so thrilled, on so many levels, that I got this role. They’re all from Michigan, and they were like, 'Your character’s an Airborne, and she’s from Michigan? Amazing!’ ”
With so many of her co-stars new to the world of “Army Wives” that she’s known for so long, Bell — who also will continue her “Good Witch” series of TV movies for Hallmark Channel at Halloween — takes her position as one of the senior cast members seriously, despite her trademark good humor.
“I’m always aware of the fact that you set the tone,” she says, “but it’s a great cast and crew, with real camaraderie. We’ve always had a great vibe, and we’re just keeping that going.”