Josh Radnor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Gary Cole and Cherry Jones are among the eclectic cast of new Civil War drama Mercy Street – the first American drama to air on PBS in more than a decade. Additionally, directors Roxann Dawson and Jeremy Webb have joined the project, from Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Thelma & Louise) and David W. Zucker (The Good Wife) of Scott Free, and Lisa Wolfinger (Desperate Crossing, The Untold Story Of The Mayflower) and David Zabel (ER).
Webb recently directed episodes of Masters Of Sex, Turn, The Red Road and Downton Abbey for Masterpiece on PBS. The extensive body of his TV work in the UK includes episodes of Doctor Who and Merlin for BBC1 and Shine, respectively. Dawson’s credits include Hell on Wheels, Bates Motel, Bosch, The Good Wife, Treme, and Scandal; she’s directing the first three episodes of Mercy Street.
In January, PBS chief Paula Kerger said the service was adding the period hospital drama to its Sunday night lineup. Mercy Street follows the lives of two volunteer nurses on opposing sides of the Civil War — New England abolitionist Mary Phinney and Confederate supporter Emma Green. The Green family’s luxury hotel in Alexandria, VA, has been transformed into Mansion House, a Union Army hospital tending to the war’s wounded. The series, being shot in the Richmond and Petersburg, VA areas, is inspired by memoirs and letters from real doctors and nurse volunteers at the hospital in Alexandria, the longest occupied Confederate city of the war.
“There’s no question this is a big swing for the fences,” Beth Hoppe, PBS Chief Programming Executive and General Manager told Deadline. Noting the cast comes from TV, theater and film, Hoppe described them as “an interesting mix that provides us with the opportunity, I hope, to create the ensemble magic that we achieve with Downton. That’s hard to do; it’s lightning in a bottle.”
The series will join a Sunday night drama lineup on PBS in winter 2016, including the final season of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece. Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment secured all foreign rights to the series, and will continue to sell international territories.
Speaking of PBS’ Sunday slate, Hoppe says stats from the new Wolf Hall show a 40% audience increase from time-shifted viewing “which is, like crazy. We normally get 20% drama and 15% non-fiction [programming] time shifts,” she said. But Wolf Hall, she explained, was up against Mad Men “which skews very high with PBS viewers, and it’s on at 10 PM, which might be late for a few of our viewers.” The series charts the rise of Thomas Cromwell, played by Mark Rylance, from lowly blacksmith’s son to the closest adviser of Tudor king Henry VIII, played by Damian Lewis.
Here is the cast of new Mercy Street:
· Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Returned, Smashed, The Spectacular Now) as Nurse Mary Phinney, a feisty New Englander and widow who is a newcomer at Mansion House Hospital.
· Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother, Liberal Arts, Disgraced) as Jedediah Foster, the civilian contract surgeon who grew up in a privileged Southern slave-owning household as the son of a wealthy Maryland landowner.
· Gary Cole (Veep, The Good Wife, Entourage) as James Green, Sr., patriarch of the Green family, struggling to maintain his family business while living in an occupied city.
· Peter Gerety (Syriana, Charlie Wilson’s War, Flight, God’s Pocket, The Wire, Prime Suspect) as Dr. Alfred Summers, chief surgeon at Mansion House, who has risen to the rank of major by virtue of his age, not skill.
· Norbert Leo Butz (Bloodline) as Dr. Byron Hale, an old-school army surgeon who lives life by the book. While Hale has an eye for the nurses, he has an ongoing relationship with Nurse Anne Reading.
· McKinley Belcher III (Power, Madame Secretary, Chicago PD, Show Me A Hero) as Samuel Diggs, a black laborer harboring a secret knowledge and ability in medicine, which he learned as a boy servant.
· Shalita Grant (NCIS: New Orleans, Bones) as Aurelia Johnson, a beautiful, stoical ‘contraband’ working as a laundress at the hospital, and trying to bury her past.
· Newcomer Hannah James as Emma Green, an entitled Southern young woman who volunteers as a nurse at Mansion House Hospital, the facility established on the site of her family’s luxury hotel.
· Cherry Jones (24), guest star, as Dorothea Dix, known as “Miss Dix,” the formidable superintendent of Union Army nurses.
Also starring in Mercy Street are Jack Falahee (How To Get Away With Murder) as Frank Stringfellow; AnnaSophia Robb (The Carrie Diaries, The Way, Way Back, Bridge To Terabithia) as Alice Green; Cameron Monaghan (Shameless) as Tom Fairfax; Donna Murphy (Passion, The King And I) as Jane Green; Tara Summers (Stalker, Rake, Boston Legal) as Anne Hastings; L. Scott Caldwell (Southland, Lost, ER) as Belinda; Suzanne Bertish (Rome) as Matron Brannan; Wade Williams (Prison Break) as Silas Bullen; Luke Macfarlane (Brothers And Sisters, Over There) as Chaplain Hopkins; and Brad Koed as James Green, Jr.
PBS has said the writers and producers of Mercy Street collaborated with historians and medical experts. They include James M. McPherson (Battle Cry Of Freedom: The Civil War Era), Dr. Stanley Burns (medical advisor to the HBO/Cinemax series The Knick), Shauna Devine (Learning From The Wounded, The Civil War And The Rise Of Medical Science), Jane Schultz (Women At The Front: Hospital Workers In Civil War America), George Wunderlich, director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Audrey Davis, director of the Alexandria Black History Museum, and Anya Jabour (Scarlett’s Sisters, Young Women In The Old South).