PBS to Use ‘Downton Abbey’ for ‘Mercy Street’ Launch

TCA 2015: New American-made drama premieres Jan. 17

Last Updated: August 1, 2015 @ 11:14 AM

PBS is hoping that it’s most successful series ever can help launch one of its newest dramas.

“Mercy Street,” PBS’ first American-made drama in more than a decade, will premiere Jan. 17 at 10 p.m., following hit drama “Downton Abbey.” The premiere of “Downton’s” final season will be Jan. 3.

PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger announced the premiere strategy Saturday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour.

Kerger acknowledged that the series will leave a void when it departs television at the end of next season, saying “it’s brought a lot of people back to public television.”

She also expressed optimism that the void can be filled.

“I believe that ‘Downton’ will not be the last great drama,” Kerger said. “No one thought before ‘Downtown’ hit that there would be another drama of it’s kind. I believe that there’s another one out there.”

Giving “Mercy Street” a “Downton” lead-in for its premiere positions the series as a candidate for viewership success. The six-part series, set in a Civil War hospital, will star Josh Radnor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Gary Cole, Peter Gerety, Norbert Leo Butz, McKinley Belcher III, Shalita Grant, Hannah James and Cherry Jones. It is executive produced by Ridley Scott and David W. Zucker of Scott Free with Lisa Q. Wolfinger and David Zabel.

Kerger described herself as “cautiously optimistic” that additional American-produced dramas would follow “Mercy Street,” but said “I’m also not announcing a big American drama initiative for PBS. This was expensive.” She noted that “our entire content budget is less than the promotion budget for HBO for one big series.”

Kerger was asked during her executive session about the embattled documentary series “Finding Your Roots,” which was shelved shortly after emails released in the Sony Pictures Entertainmement hack uncovered that the show’s producers had not included information about guest Ben Affleck’s ancestors owning slaves after the actor expressed reluctance to have the information made public. “We have not announced a new season for ‘Finding Your Roots,'” Kerger said, but noted that she is “hopeful” that third season will be possible after producers have put additional research and fact-checking resources in place.

“Downton Abbey” will have its own float in the January Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. “Sometimes in public television we are accused of not having a sense of humor or fun or whimsy,” Kerger said. “I think this captures all of those. Ad no, I won’t be on the float.”
PBS announced Saturday a new addition to its Arts Fall Festival, “Danny Elfman’s Music From the Films of Tim Burton,” to premiere Oct. 30 at 9 p.m.

PBS Kids announced Saturday a new animated film, “Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle,” to premiere Aug. 17, ad new episodes of the children’s animated series “Super Why!” also beginning Aug. 17.