Funding woes prompt PBS to kill off ‘Mercy Street’

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Antony Platt

Shalita Grant plays Aurelia Johnson on the PBS historical drama Mercy Street.

Mercy Street, PBS’s Civil War hospital drama, will not survive for a Season 3.

PBS said in a statement Thursday that it couldn’t secure funding for a new season.

The second season of Mercy Street ended Sunday. The program revolved around the lives of the staff and patients inside an Alexandria, Va., hotel that had been converted to a hospital by Union troops.

“We are extremely proud of both seasons of Mercy Street,” said Beth Hoppe, PBS chief programmer, in the statement. The six episodes of Season 1 reached 14 million viewers and was PBS’s second–most-popular drama after Downton Abbey that season, according to PBS and Nielsen. The first three episodes of Season 2, for which the most recent data is available, garnered 6.5 million viewers.

Mercy Street was PBS’s first original drama since 2004. Executive producers included Ridley Scott (Thelma and Louise, The Good Wife) and David W. Zucker (The Man in the High Castle). Leading the cast were Josh Radnor as Dr. Jedediah Foster and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nurse Mary Phinney.

Funders for Season 1 included the Anne Ray Foundation, the Virginia Film Office and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which dropped its support for Season 2.

PBS also premiered the program with an in-season licensing deal with Amazon that gave exclusive streaming rights to Amazon Prime Video subscribers.

PBS never revealed the cost of Mercy Street. A PBS spokesperson said that it does not disclose production budgets.

But in a 2016 interview with Current, Hoppe said Mercy Street producers “accomplished a lot with what they had. … The price tags on some dramas out there are $10 million an hour, and this is a fraction of that.”

The cast worked for less than regular rates, and series creator Lisa Wolfinger said limiting shoots to two primary locations also reduced costs.

Correction: An earlier version of this post identified Aurelia Johnson as an actress. That is the character that actress Shalita Grant plays.

  • Robert Sylvain

    It can’t possibly be too late! If enough people jump on the #SaveMercyStreet bandwagon, they’ll find a way to keep it going…

    • Idella Jenkins

      Yes, I hope that happens, I love this show one of the best on tv

  • We want more of the best public television in the U.S. and the world. ?

  • Gala Kimberly Romm

    Just finished watching the second season. The series should continue. We lack the shows about our country’s history, and this one was absolutely wonderful, done with deep historical perspective, intelligence and beauty.The show was both educational and highly exciting.

  • Kristin

    I love this show and hope there is some way to save it on another channel! (just a note: in the above photo, Shalita Grant is the name of the actress. her character in season one was named Aurelia). :)

    • Dru Sefton, Current

      Hi Kristin: We’ve made that correction, thanks for the heads-up.