Last month a London tabloid devoted one full page to the sensational terms of an English football star's divorce. (His wife will receive an unprecedented 40% of his future earnings for the next four seasons, as well as $20,000 a year for dry-cleaning expenses.) So what if the player was never identified, thanks to a judge's gag order? Brits love keeping tabs on Posh and Becks and--even when they must guess the names--reading about other soccer stars, the only big-name athletes they have.
That explains the allure of Footballers Wive$ in the U.K., where the racy soap has been one of the most-watched shows since its debut three years ago. Its more surprising success in the U.S., where it has been drawing strong ratings since it premiered on BBC America three weeks ago, comes down to two factors. First, BBC America shrewdly marketed it to Desperate Housewives fans, putting it in the same Sunday-night time slot while Housewives is in summer reruns, and using the slogan "If you're desperate this summer, here is a whole new set of housewives." Second, the show, with its perfect mix of camp and sleaziness (nudity is only slightly less prevalent than coke use), is so darn habit-forming. It's hard not to be drawn in by the audacious plotlines. In one recent episode the team's philandering captain returned from a graphic barroom rendezvous with a fan to find his wife faking her suicide to scare him; in another, a player's fianc�e--a topless model--is injured at her own bachelorette party when some of her candelabra-wielding fans get a little too aggressive and accidentally burn her.
Wive$ takes itself far less seriously than its American counterpart, never aspiring to be more than a good way to pass an hour. As a result, a hit has been hatched and--here's the really good news--a five-episode marathon is scheduled for Aug. 21.