Mercy Street, the PBS drama about life during the Civil War in the City of Alexandria, Virginia, debuts January 17 on PBS. PBS is placing the debut of the six-part mini-series after Downton Abbey which is heading into its final season.
Here’s a look behind the scenes of the drama series.
“We came up with a concept that was more of a ‘M*A*S*H*’ concept,” co-creator Lisa Wolfinger said of her early conversations with fellow executive producer and ‘E.R.’ veteran David Zabel. “It was based in a field hospital and it followed the Army of the Potomac around. It was certainly a Union project at this point…I thought about the practicalities and the budget and the kind of budget that PBS would be able to put together, and i thought this was too ambitious. We would have to see every battle. We’re talking about thousands of extras and we just can’t go there.”
But tying “Mercy Street” to Alexandria, Va. opened up new dramatic and thematic possibilities for the series.
“I realized the best way to focus it was probably to focus on a general hospital,” Wolfinger told me. “For the first time you have hospitals, general hospitals. Prior to the Civil War, they were hospitals for the indigent, the poor. If you got sick you were treated in your home…As I dug more and more, it jut became more and more exciting. Here was a Confederate town, occupied by the Union all four years of the war.” The Confederate-leaning family who had their mansion requisitioned by the Union Army to be turned into a hospital insisted on staying, rather than heading behind Confederate lines.
“The very last element that really clinched it,” Wolfinger said, “was [that Alexandria] start[ed] to get this mass of slaves, runaway slaves, refugees, heading north, trying to get into Union territory. And of course once they reached Union-occupied Alexandria, they didn’t have to get any further. You end up with this huge ghetto town surrounding Alexandria, and this big population of what they called contraband.”