WNET Up Next: Mercy Street, Exec. Prod. David Zabel

January 19, 2017

David Zabel, Executive Producer of  Mercy Street shares his thoughts on the series and his career as a writer-producer of television drama. Mercy Street is now in it’s second season; the first season received an overwhelmingly positive response, as it marked the first PBS dramatic series to be be presented in many years with an American cast and themes.  The drama  takes place during the Civil War and is centered on Mansion House, a luxury hotel being used as a Union Army hospital.  Mercy Street follows the lives of  civilians, female volunteers, doctors, wounded soldiers, free blacks, contraband, prostitutes, speculators and spies whose lives intersect at the hospital in Alexandria, Virginia.  The second season, while continuing go explore events in Alexandria, broadens  the focus to the battlefields and the confederate capitol of Richmond.

In his conversation with Tom Stewart, David reveals how the the series grew out of an earlier idea for a documentary on Civil War medicine.  With his collaborator Lisa Q. Wolfinger, the idea evolved into  a full fledged multipart historical drama with the support of Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Officer of PBS.  He speaks of the joy of writing for a PBS audience and has high praise for his actors, who are a cross section of Broadway stage performers (many TONY award winners) as well as those from film and television. Viewers will be captivated by  the great atttention to accurate period detail, made possible by historical experts in many fields including medicine, women’s health, Southern gentility, and Civil War battles.  Not only did the location shooting in Virginia provide authentic settings and a unique look for the series, but the input of the Virginia crews on the film provided  a special degree of sensitivity and context  for the filmmakers.

David has had a long career in television with previous long runs on dramatic series such as ER , but he has particularly enjoyed his relationship with PBS and its ability to entertain, educate, inform, and stimulate the audience’s thirst for finding out more about the subject at hand.  If they get the go ahead, he has many stories ready for a third season.

Recorded at WNET’s Audio C on January 6, 2017

A presentation of the Design & On-Air Promotion Department of WNET New York Public Media

Special thanks to Jordan Lawrence of DKC