By Mary Wadland
“Mercy Street” is the working title given to the six episodes ordered for the historical drama from executive producer Ridley Scott. Based on the real lives of two volunteer nurses, Mary Phinney and Emma Green, who found themselves on opposite sides of the Civil War while at Mansion House, a Union Army hospital in Virginia, the PBS series hopes to expand into a multi-season franchise, according to network president and chief executive Paula Kerger.
An open casting call for extras took place in Richmond on April 2 and filming begins there at the end of April in Richmond, with no definite dates for when the cameras will roll in Alexandria, but they will.
Mansion House Hospital during the Civil War. Courtesy photo.Set in 1862 in the Mansion House Hospital in Union–occupied Alexandria, Va., the show is focused on the professional and personal trials and tribulations of the staff. The hospital was located at Princess Street and N. Fairfax Street in Alexandria.
The hotel/hospital is described by Visit Alexandria as: “A grand hotel before the war, the building that once surrounded the Carlyle House was known as the Mansion House Hospital and could hold up to 700 sick and wounded soldiers. Nurse Mary Phinney described the constant flow of stretchers in and out of the hospital. The site’s Civil War history features many fascinating figures, including poet Walt Whitman, Confederate spy Frank Stringfellow, and Sarah Emma Edmonds, who disguised herself as a Union soldier.”
Lisa Quijano Wolfinger, who has written, produced, directed and supervised a variety of films and TV programs, is the “showrunner” for Mercy Street, with co-creator David Zabel (showrunner/writer for NBC’s ER.) Wolfinger is the president and owner of Sawbone Films.
“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,” Wolfinger said earlier this year, in a release from PBS.
“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,” Zabel said.
“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,” Wolfinger said.
“All of these elements come together in Alexandria’s Mansion House Hospital — a dysfunctional and unpredictable world filled with conflict and passion,” she said. “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.”
The program is executive produced by Ridley Scott/Scott Free Productions Gladiator, Thelma & Louise, David W. Zucker ER, The Good Wife and Wolfinger.
Mercy Street will premier early next year, airing on Sundays, according to PBS.