Military TV: Showrunner Jeff Melvoin

Lifetime TV Network’s military family drama Army Wives is in its 5th season airing Sunday nights. But veteran TV producer Jeff Melvoin, whose lengthy credits include stints overseeing the series Alias, Picket Fences, Northern Exposure and Remington Steele, was underwhelmed when his agent asked him to consider doing triage duty during its debut back in 2007. Created by Katherine Fugate based on Tanya Biank’s book about the lives of five couples on a Charleston, S.C. military base, Army Wives enjoyed the largest series premiere in Lifetime’s 23-year history. But by the time Melvoin showed up for Episode 3, the series had been shut down. He ran the show for one season, then left for the second season so other showrunners took oversight. Then he returned for Season 3 and is still on board. This interview by Deadline TV contributor Diane Haithman took place in Melvoin’s office at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood:

DEADLINE: How badly did you not want to be the showrunner on Army Wives?
JEFF MELVOIN:  My agent said: ‘There’s a show on Lifetime called Army Wives that’s interested in you,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m not interested.’ All the connotations I had were negative, at least for me: Lifetime is a women’s network, and Army Wives sounded just too close to Desperate Housewives. I thought it would be an over-the-top type of show, which is not the kind of stuff that I’ve done. But my agent said: “Please, just look at the pilot.”  And I thought, this is really good. This was a show about real people, who were in a situation that I’d never seen before, written with intelligence and heart and humor, and in an area that I thought was very significant considering the all-volunteer army we have. And most Americans aren’t touched by these conflicts in Iraq and whatever comes next. In a curious way, not since Northern Exposure did I feel there was a chance to work with people in a drama that was unpredictable. I never looked at it as a soap opera. It’s a serial drama, it’s a family drama, but mostly I just saw it as a bunch of good stories about people I was interested in.

DEADLINE: You were brought in to fix the show. What was wrong with it?
MELVOIN: It’s something that a lot of people in my position would be hesitant to characterize, but I don’t really know what was going on behind the scenes. I know the situation that I inherited was that they only had one script ready and no other scripts in the hopper, and they didn’t think it was shootable, and they wanted it fixed. (more…)

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