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Director Stanley Nelson Visits Madison

Director Stanley Nelson’s work — which includes impactful American Experience documentaries Freedom Summer and Freedom Riders, and the unprecedented upcoming documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution — is important, unrivaled and prolific.

In advance of the Feb. 16 nationwide premiere of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, the first feature-length documentary to explore the Black Panther Party in detail, Nelson is taking time out of his busy schedule to visit Madison this week.

While in Madison, Nelson will attend a free screening  at the Madison Central Library, sit down with Wisconsin Public Television Director’s Cut host Pete Schwaba for an exclusive interview about his film, and appear Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 3:15 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time.

Needless to say, everyone at WPT is excited to welcome Nelson to the studios, and we hope that you can take advantage of the opportunity to meet this prolific director while he’s here or tune in to one of his interviews. Check out the details of Nelson’s screening and appearances below, and mark your calendars for the premieres of Director’s Cut: Stanley Nelson and The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution Feb. 16 on WPT.

Continue reading Director Stanley Nelson Visits Madison

Exploring Mercy Street: The Uniform

Historical fiction is the first draft of legend. If memorable, stories we tell about our family, friends, ancestors and heroes may gain currency over time and take on lives of their own. Using our shared past as inspiration for parable, potboiler and everything in-between is at the root of spinning experience into imagination.

As entertainment, historical fiction is flexible. Stories are anchored to a point in time and accuracy of setting is a basic requirement, but when it comes to plot and characters, there’s more latitude for how closely they’re bound to what we know about the past. Both imagined and historical figures are standard, but their words and actions can be created whole-cloth or drawn as directly as possible from documented record.

When it comes to the American Civil War, two classic battlefield tales exemplify these poles. The Red Badge of Courage, an 1895 novel by Stephen Crane, tells the fictional story of a Union private overcoming his fears through a series of unnamed battles. In contrast, The Killer Angels, a 1974 novel by Michael Shaara, tells the story of Gettysburg in close detail, mostly from the perspectives of several high-profile participants. But most stories fall somewhere between these two approaches, mixing historical reality with original drama.

Mercy Street offers elements of both styles. Set in Alexandria, Virginia, a Union-occupied former slave-trading hub just downriver from Washington D.C., the story centers around two historical buildings: Mansion House Hospital and Carlyle House. It’s late spring 1862, in the midst of the Peninsula Campaign, when a massive Union force is advancing on Richmond. Several major characters are drawn from historical records, notably Union nurse Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and some members of the Confederate-sympathizing Green family.

Continue reading Exploring Mercy Street: The Uniform

Exploring Mercy Street: The Haversack

Mercy Street

PBS has high hopes for Mercy Street. It’s the first original drama created by the network in over a decade and arrives in a media environment flush with ambitious television. The show is weighted with heavy expectations, its release timed to coincide with the final season of Downton Abbey. The apparent goal: A hit to succeed the British import and perhaps lead to more homegrown productions.

Mercy Street has received a promotional push commensurate to the investment PBS made in developing it, and it’s regularly compared to Downton, despite its creators’ insistence the two merely share their dramatic bent.

There are similarities between Mercy Street and Downton Abbey, though, beyond that they’re both prestige dramas. For starters, they are both simultaneously family and workplace dramas. Downton’s Upstairs, Downstairs-inspired chronicle of the Crawley family and their manor full of servants inspires a tangled web of relationships. Mercy Street also combines family and work, but leads with its wartime hospital centerpiece and mostly Union Army staff. The family element is woven in through the Greens, a Confederate-sympathizing aristocratic clan that owned Mansion House, originally a luxury hotel, before the war. Continue reading Exploring Mercy Street: The Haversack

Rick Bayless Takes Us On Location in Mexico, And It’s Delicious

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It’s not unusual for Rick Bayless to be in Mexico recording a new season of Mexico: One Plate at a Time (full disclosure: to me, the best cooking show on television.) What is unusual – and really exciting for those of us who are stuck back here in the wind, snow and cold of Wisconsin – is that Chef Bayless is taking us all along on this production with daily behind the scenes video updates from each unique – and delicious – location he and his crew are visiting.

You can watch all of them, follow along with the adventure as it happens and share your comments directly with Bayless and his team on his Facebook page.

But, I also wanted to share a couple of my favorite video dispatches that have already arrived.  Continue reading Rick Bayless Takes Us On Location in Mexico, And It’s Delicious

The Final Forte: Where Are They Now?


To watch this year’s competition at 7 p.m. on Friday, January 29, visit The Final Forte page, tune in to WPT’s livestream or listen live on WPR. If you miss the live show, you can also catch the competition by watching the broadcast on WPT

Each year, some of the most talented young artists in the state vie for top honors in the final round of the Bolz Young Artist Competition. With all of the buzz around the competition itself, it’s easy to forget that soon afterward, these amazing young musicians go on to do great things! With that in mind, producer John Gerbig set out to catch up with some of the previous contestants and discover what they’re doing today. Continue reading The Final Forte: Where Are They Now?

The Downton Dish: Episode 4

Downton Abbey Part Four - Sunday, January 24, 2016 at 9pm ET on MASTERPIECE on PBS Miss Baxter faces a dilemma. Anna and Mary rush to London. Daisy continues to press her case. A former maid comes to lunch. Car talk is in the air. Shown from left to right: Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith, Penelope Wilton as Isobel Crawley, Joanne Froggatt as Anna Bates, Raquel Cassidy as Baxter, and Samantha Bond as Aunt Rosamund (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE This image may be used only in the direct promotion of MASTERPIECE CLASSIC. No other rights are granted. All rights are reserved. Editorial use only. USE ON THIRD PARTY SITES SUCH AS FACEBOOK AND TWITTER IS NOT ALLOWED.

Mary is getting pretty sassy, and never seems to be satisfied, no matter how dashing and debonair her suitors are. A familiar face graces Downton Abbey, but there’s quite a bit of drama surrounding our old friend – how will Gwen re-introduce herself to the Crawley family? And of course, this hospital drama just never ends!

Notes on Episode 4 of the final season from our resident Downton expert and guest contributor, Analiese Smith:

I am so glad Tom is back. I think that his journey to figuring out how he feels about the family and the ownership he was taking over the estate is so compelling, and it will be interesting to see how he and Lady Mary will divide up the tasks, or if they will go in separate directions.

Why does the local cop make so many appearances on this show?!? I hope this situation is an opportunity for Baxter to finally put her past behind her.

The hospital battle is really pitting the Dowager Countess against everyone. Between Anna’s medical situation and Lord Grantham clutching himself in pain, it seems as though something pretty major and not good is going to happen …

If Barrow cares what people think about him, he should really consider being less of a jerk. On another note, what a touching moment remembering Sybil. Funny how Lady Mary was so moved by this story just as she spirits away Anna in a shroud of mystery to help her.

Daisy almost put her foot in her mouth, once again. What a happy ending – really, it was the only one that made sense.

The welcome back party is very sweet. I laughed a little too hard at the passport line. Also, the scene with Mr. Carson removing the paper with his name would be a great clip summarizing the “Farewell Season”. It feels so sad, even though you know he’s leaving to live happily ever after with Mrs. Hughes. I hope there is more good cheer on the way!

Exploring Mercy Street: Blood is not Gray or Blue

Mercy Street

Click here to read a recap of the series premiere in part one of “Exploring Mercy Street.”

When American cinema and television turns to the Civil War, the resulting storytelling covers the same ground, over and over again. Ever since the conflict starting fading from living memory a century ago, we walk the familiar dramatic terrain of divided families struggling amidst sweeping historical forces. It’s a setting of belles, battle gallantry, and bullies in blue uniforms.

The latest Civil War story on our screens is Mercy Street, a new PBS series set at a Union hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. Its premiere episode introduced a cast of characters, some of whom viewers may feel like they’ve encountered previously. That may reflect how Civil War storytelling has long drawn from the well of the Lost Cause.   Continue reading Exploring Mercy Street: Blood is not Gray or Blue

Exploring Mercy Street: Series Premiere


Click here to read more on the new PBS series in part two of “Exploring Mercy Street.”

Mercy Street, a new dramatic series presented by PBS, is seeking to offer a new take on the Civil War. Set in Alexandria, Virginia, the program focuses on the Mansion House Hospital, a onetime luxury hotel. Requisitioned by the Union Army, the facility is transformed into a way station for maimed and dying soldiers, and a wartime home to those caring for them.

Much of the program’s dramatic prospects flow from the location. Alexandria was once included within the original boundaries of the District of Columbia, separated fifteen years before  the Civil War. A long-time port in the slave trade and located just down the Potomac River from Robert E. Lee’s plantation in Arlington, it was well within the South culturally speaking, though it wouldn’t be part of the Confederacy for long. Only one day after Virginia’s secession was ratified, U.S. Army troops entered the town, and would remain there for the duration of the war. Continue reading Exploring Mercy Street: Series Premiere