PBS will decide shortly on another season of ‘Mercy Street’

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PBS President Paula Kerger hinted at a second season of the new public TV drama Mercy Street at a meeting of the PBS Board Tuesday.

Kerger told directors meeting at headquarters in Arlington, Va., that PBS “protected our opportunity to move forward by putting money up for scripts for Season 2 and locking in the cast before the show premiered.” Mercy Street is PBS’s first commissioned drama in a decade.

Kerger said PBS “will make a decision shortly” on the next season of the Civil War ensemble drama set in a Union hospital in Alexandria, Va. She said PBS executives were hoping for at least a 2 rating; the Jan. 17 premiere scored a 2.2. Also, online viewers watched 500,000 streams of Mercy Street within a week after its debut.

“But this was not on our air just because it’s good entertainment,” Kerger noted. “We think there are people who may not watch documentaries but who will watch a fictional drama series.” That provides PBS a chance to explore topics such as the changing role of women, race history and medical advancements — all contemporary issues, she said.

In other news, the board:

  • Elected Thomas Rieland, g.m. of WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, as a new professional director. Rieland will serve out the term of Polly Anderson, executive director of WUCF TV in Orlando, Fla., who resigned that position in December and so is no longer eligible to serve on the board. Rieland will serve through October 2018.
  • Accepted a new station for membership: PBS South Florida, made up of WPBT in Miami and WXEL in West Palm Beach. The two stations announced their merger in October 2015.
  • Heard about the early success of Passport, PBS’s member-based video-streaming service. As of Dec. 31, Kerger said, some 45,000 members at 25 stations had activated memberships to Passport. That’s a 15 percent activation rate, about three times what PBS had expected. Also, stations reported 3,511 donations totaling $122,000 thanks to Passport, with over half of those as sustaining members, said Betsy Gerdeman, s.v.p. development services. “Those numbers ballooned in just the last few weeks,” Gerdeman said.

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