Unveiled at the Television Critics Association winter press tour today, PBS has announced its development of what will be an epic 6-part scripted series that will explore a Virginia hospital during the Civil War, scheduled for an early 2016 premiere.
Executive produced by Ridley Scott, David W. Zucker and Lisa Q. Wolfinger, and co-created and written by David Zabel, the new drama is set against the backdrop of doctors and nurses valiantly struggling to save lives while facing their own trials and tribulations.
“We think it’s important to tell American stories with American history at the roots,” PBS chief programming executive Beth Hoppe said. “It’s at a time when so much was going on. It’s such rich territory.”
Featuring an ensemble cast of characters, that will “reflect the diversity of the time and place,” Hoppe added: “We’re being really, really careful” about staying true to historical events.”
Starting its story line in 1862, 3 years before the 13th amendment was ratified, the scripted series will tackle a broad range of issues, including, of course, slavery, relationships of all kinds between blacks and whites at the time, women’s roles, North/South politics, advances in medicine, and more.
“It tells the story of the beginnings of war from both points of view, people living in a Southern town and the Union (forces) occupying it,” co-creator and writer Zabel says. “It’s not a show about battles. It’s about the social impact of war and the different people dealing with it: Southerners, Northerners, freed slaves, runaway slaves, blacks (who are) free in the North. It’s’ a great American story and a very relatable way into it.”
Exec producer Wolfinger says he sees it developing in a similar way to PBS’ hit soap opera “Downton Abbey,” as well as “Deadwood,” “The Knick” and “M*A*S*H.” Quite a disparate group of work there, as inspiration.
Expect depictions of major historical events and figures, like the most obvious, Abraham
“We didn’t want to do a museum-piece version,” Zabel says. “It has a lot of life and vitality.”
Worth noting, as announced last week, NBC and Stevie Wonder are teaming up to bring author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Betty DeRamus’ acclaimed book “Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories From the Underground Railroad,” to the screen, as an epic 8-hour miniseries titled “Freedom Run.”
Also see PBS’ 2015 Black History Month lineup of programming here, which includes the premiere of Sam Pollard’s documentary “August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand,” which examines his legacy.