PBS President and CEO Paula A. Kerger announced today at the PBS portion of the Television Critic’s Association Press Tour that a new Civil War historical drama, shot in Virginia, will join the PBS Sunday night drama lineup. The first season of six episodes is slated for a winter 2016 premiere.
Based on true stories, the new drama follows two volunteer nurses on opposite sides of the Civil War. Mary Phinney, a staunch New England abolitionist, and Emma Green, a willful young Confederate belle, collide at Mansion House, the Green family’s luxury hotel that has been taken over and transformed into a Union Army Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, the longest-occupied Confederate city of the war. As the boundaries of medicine are being explored and expanded, the role of women is also broadening. Here, in the collision of a wartime medical drama and a family saga of conflicted loyalties and moral dilemmas, the series plays out a story of the highest stakes.
Executive produced by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Thelma & Louise), David W. Zucker (“The Good Wife”) and Lisa Q. Wolfinger (“Desperate Crossing, The untold story of the Mayflower”) and written by David Zabel (“ER”), the new drama is set against the backdrop of doctors and female nurses valiantly struggling to save lives while facing their own trials and tribulations. The intersection of North and South within the confines of a small occupied city creates a rich world that is chaotic, conflicted, corrupt, dynamic and even hopeful — a cauldron within which these characters strive, fight, love, laugh, betray, sacrifice and, at times, act like scoundrels. In the end, Mary and Emma will learn a vital lesson in a country split in two and ravaged by war: Blood is neither blue nor grey — it is all one color.
The series is created by Lisa Q. Wolfinger and David Zabel and based on research conducted over the last three years. The story is inspired by the memoirs and letters of actual doctors and female nurse volunteers at Mansion House Hospital. In addition, the writers and producers have worked with a prominent group of historians and medical experts, including James M. McPherson (“Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era”), Thavolia Glymph (“Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household”) and Jane Schultz (“Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America”).
Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming, PBS, said, “Viewers know that Sunday nights are a destination for original drama on PBS. It has been more than a decade since our Sunday night drama lineup has included truly American stories. With this new series, we will look into one of the most complicated, tumultuous and dramatic moments in our country’s history, the Civil War. I’m delighted to have this new series join an impressive history of past American dramas on PBS.”
Lisa Q. Wolfinger said, “We think of the Civil War as a brutal, devastating chapter in American history, but it was also a moment of remarkable transition that presented opportunities unthinkable just a few years before. Doctors, faced with mass casualties on an unprecedented scale, pushed the boundaries of medical science, women left the confines of the home and volunteered as nurses, and thousands of escaped slaves got their first taste of freedom. All of these elements come together in Alexandria’s Mansion House Hospital — a dysfunctional and unpredictable world filled with conflict and passion. Our characters (many based on real people) are colorful, complicated and completely relatable. This series is not about battles and glory, it’s about the drama and unexpected humor of everyday life behind the front lines. It’s a new twist on an iconic story, one that resonates with larger themes we still struggle with today.”
David W. Zucker said, “These are rich, personal stories that are based on the real experience of the horror of war combined with the drama, excitement and energy of what it is like to work in a trauma ward, especially given the limited state of medicine at the time. But equally, the series will explore what life was like in this occupied city, for the female nurses — of the North and South — the transient soldiers and the former slaves who were either heading north to freedom, into battle or trying to figure out, like others, what the war would ultimately mean for them.”
David Zabel said, “Speaking as a writer, it would be difficult to find an event in American history more dramatic and riveting than the Civil War. It was an extraordinary time that served in so many ways as transitional from an earlier world — we see massive change enacted in a range of areas, including medicine, social mores, military practices, transportation, media, commerce and government. And yet, as these transformational moments were unfolding, people tried to live their lives and maintain some normalcy while in the midst of a great upheaval. The locus of Alexandria at this time as a crossroads of North and South, war and peace, old and new, offers a wealth of characters and situations that is a gift for a storyteller and a perfect setting for a great American story.”
The series is not only set in Virginia, it will also be filmed there. Production is scheduled to begin in the spring in and around Richmond, where so much of this history took place.