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While PBS is often a great network to go to for drama, the television channel frequently imports its programming from networks in the U.K. and elsewhere for first-run U.S. viewership. All of that changed last season when PBS premiered Mercy Street, a show that was part a hospital drama and part a historical drama about the Civil War. The show seemed to have good Live+7 day viewership, which is why we were a little surprised to learn that PBS has cancelled the drama. Mercy Street will not be returning for Season 3.
Reports indicate that during Season 2, the show was averaging 6.5 million total viewers during its first three episodes, albeit in Live+7 Day ratings. Still, if ratings weren't the reason Mercy Street was cancelled, why exactly was it cancelled? PBS told Deadline that funding was one major hurdle. The second issues was "aligning production timelines," which seems to indicate that maybe it was tough to get the large ensemble cast together to film, especially as this series seemed to be a side project for some of the major actors.
For example, it honestly seemed as if Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who appeared to be the lead of the series during its first season and who is expected to star in the upcoming season of Fargo, may have been on her way out of the series. Season 2 featured the character of Mary Phinney languishing away in a sick bed, leaving her romantic interest, played by Josh Radner, less to do in her absence. But Mercy Street still grew a lot in its second season, spending more time with Hannah James' Emma Green, who was quietly working to fill the role Mary Phinney played early on in the series. We also got a lot more from McKinley Belcher's Samuel Diggs and Norbert Leo Butz's Dr. Byron Hale, whose unlikely partnership led to some amusing scenes.
Season 2 did wrap up nicely, with the Emancipation Proclamation and Jed reuniting with Mary, but there were still storylines that hadn't played out in full. The Civil War was still raging. I needed to know what was going to happen with the Green family and the unfortunate position they were in related to Allan Pinkerton's investigations. Mary Phinney's fate was still up in the air. It's a damn shame the show isn't going to continue on for a third season, especially as it shows a side of the Civil War we don't often get to see play out on the small screen.
That's the price you pay for being a TV fan. At least once a season I get my heart broken when one of my favorite shows gets cancelled. If this year, it's only Mercy Street, I've made my peace with that. So here, here for PBS first foray into original programming in more than a decade. May you rest in peace.
We'll let you know as soon as PBS begins to put some more scripted originals together again. In the meantime, you can take a look at what is coming up with our midseason TV premiere schedule.