Behind The Scenes: PBS’s Mercy Street

PBS is premiering a series on medical technologies. The new original television drama, MERCY STREET, will stake a claim as the first American-made historical drama to air on PBS in a decade. The program will follow the highly successful DOWNTON ABBEY in the Sunday evening time slot.

Shot on location in Virginia, both economic and racial tensions are explored in this series. Originally called Mansion House, MERCY STREET takes place in a luxury hotel-turned-hospital in Alexandria, Virginia during the Civil War, which has become home to both Union and Confederate soldiers. David Zabel, the executive producer and showrunner of ER, who is writing the series, said in a correspondence with Science & Film,

“MERCY STREET allowed us to explore a pivotal point in our country’s history. The Civil War in many ways had a clear before and after. What emerged was a world more modern, more in flux and more familiar to ours. If you look carefully, which we tried to do, you can spot these moments of transition, in the relationship between north and south, male and female and what it means to be free versus enslaved. But also, you see here the exploration of new medical techniques, the identification of new illnesses and a much greater appreciation of the devastating impact of military conflict. For those who lived through this tumultuous period, the world appeared to be changing quickly, even as they lived day to day. As writers and producers, the true stories we explored provided us with a glimpse of a world very foreign but increasingly recognizable.”

The advent of ambulances and other medical technologies such as using metal sutures were established during Civil War times when medicine had to keep up with the number of wounded. The series, with a star team attached, doesn’t shy away from showing how these new technologies were used.

The cast includes Josh Radnor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead and the show is produced by Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions. Executive Producer David W. Zucker said to Science & Film,

“Alexandria, VA was a cauldron where diverse worlds were in conflict. This union occupied southern city is for us a microscope that allowed us to explore the Civil War in a very intimate way. It is as if all of the issues we most associate with this period and the Civil War are playing out there – the conflict between north and south, the role of the military and government, the quest for freedom, the relationship between men and women and of course for our series, how the war was creating what we recognize today as modern medicine. It is an extraordinarily dramatic moment. Working with our team of historical advisors, and amazingly talented set and costume designers, we’ve strived to capture this world in as detailed a way as possible.”

The medical advisor from the dark and intriguing show THE KNICK is advising here as well. The Sloan Foundation is partially funding the mini-series, which will premiere on PBS January 17, 2016.