‘Good business’

A lighting crew sets up for a 2008 taping of "Army Wives" at the old Navy base in North Charleston. The Lifetime show is returning for a seventh season.

“Army Wives” will be back for a seventh season, and that has Charleston-area businessmen, public officials and locals associated with the hit television show in seventh heaven.

In previous years, the production has employed dozens of South Carolinians in on- and off-screen roles and spent millions of dollars with Charleston-area businesses. The show has also made more than a few viewers into tourists.

But after season six, there were questions about which of the cast would return and whether the show would continue to film here. Then came word Friday that Lifetime signed up for another 13 episodes of the military-base drama.

Tripp Hayes, director of marketing at The Mills House Hotel, has been hosting the show’s top talent since it began but hadn’t heard the latest news until Monday afternoon. He was in the middle of budgeting and had been considering how to fill those 1,000 room-nights “because last thing I had heard was that they were probably not going to get it.”

“It’s a huge economic impact to the hotel directly, and we’re not the only hotel they use,” Hayes said. “It spreads across the community pretty tremendously.”

He said the show’s winter production period will help firm up the hotel’s “softer months,” representing “good business when we need it.”

“I’ll probably be hanging up with you and picking up with them,” Hayes said, “and getting the dates of filming.”

Richard Futch, the show’s casting director, said even he doesn’t know the exact filming schedule yet.

“Nobody’s told us,” said Futch, who expects to know more this week. “We just know that there’s going to be a season seven.”

In years past, said Marion Edmonds, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, “Army Wives” has employed between 160 and 170 people over the six months of production, “and probably a third of those are South Carolinians.”

Those who aren’t need somewhere to stay, which means approximately 11,000 room-nights at local lodging houses. One of the biggest stars, actress Catherine Bell, even bought a house in the area, though she no longer calls the Lowocuntry home.

In addition to the speaking roles, there are the hundreds of paid extras, Edmonds noted.

“Army Wives” maintains a base of operations off the King Street Extension and has filmed at the former Navy base, at a soundstage on Dorchester Road and plenty of other local sites.

“So when you take the extras and the actors from South Carolina, you’re looking at 3,000 to 3,300 days of work,” he said.

Edmonds said the show has spent about $7 million with 450 to 500 Charleston-area vendors in previous years. The show buys everything from lumber and nails to dry-cleaning and rental car services, Futch said.

“It’s quite a hefty little figure,” Futch said of the local spending. “The more we buy locally … the better off our film incentives are.”

The show will receive a 15 percent tax incentive for local wages and local supplies, but that’s less than in recent years. And that has some worried.

Futch, who is also president of the Carolina Film Alliance, has been working on legislation to increase those incentives.

“We’re trying to make sure we have all of our T’s crossed, I’s dotted and make sure we get this thing in before the end of the year … to make sure South Carolina is competitive with all the other states around it,” he said.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey agreed the state needs to do more to attract movie and television products. But in the meantime, he feels lucky about season seven of “Army Wives.”

“We’re just very pleased that they got picked up,” he said Monday. “It’s a wonderful series that has showcased the Charleston area and has brought a lot of good-paying jobs to a lot of people.”