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

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

Back to the Future With Wisconsin Public Television

On this Back to the Future Day, everyone is talking about what didn’t come true by Oct. 21, 2015. We’re taking the opposite approach, looking back in time into the archives of Airwaves magazine to see what was airing on Wisconsin Public Television on Oct. 26, 1985 – the day Marty and Doc left Hill Valley for the future.

For the record, we turned to our trusty Sports Almanac to find out that the Wisconsin Football team lost the game against Illinois that closed out our broadcast day, 25-38.

WPT Archives: Exploring Our Past

I spend so much time trying to keep up with this crazy 21st Century (I blame you, Twitter), but when left to my own devices I tend to fall into a much slower rhythm.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always been drawn to libraries and archives. When I was living in Brussels, it was my art school’s local – and dusty – hodgepodge of old books filled with gallery exhibits, tutorials and biographies. Here, I’m lucky enough to have the Wisconsin Historical Society and the University Archives just across the street.

Visit WPT’s new archive page!

When I was given the opportunity to work with our amazing media archivist, Ann Wilkens, I leapt at the chance. What were our offices like in the 1950s or ‘60s? What ideas mattered to us? What were we arguing about and what were we celebrating?

Our archives have helped me visualize everything we were working for and continue to work towards: sharing quality public education, exploring our heritage and understanding our culture.

Now, you can explore with me. We’re digitizing as much of our archival footage as possible and making it available to watch online. Visit our new WPT Archives page, and start poking around. Click on a newly digitized show that catches your attention, or explore by decade. You can also find the WPT Archives by going to our Watch Page, and looking under “Wisconsin Productions.”

Watch John F. Kennedy announce his presidential campaign. Listen in on a conversation with Richard Nixon. Check out some of our more memorable kids shows like The Friendly Giant and Storylords. It’s all right here. Take a look.

Supper Clubs 101: More Than Just Dinner Conversation

Supper Clubs 101 premiered Thursday, July 23 on Wisconsin Public Television. The original documentary, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the hometown restaurants that are serving hearty meals and a dose of nostalgia, got viewers talking on social media. Check out what fans had to say below! Missed Supper Clubs 101 or hungry for more? Watch it here! Or, keep reading to see some of the great online responses we saw during the premiere! Continue reading Supper Clubs 101: More Than Just Dinner Conversation

A Hearty Helping of Wisconsin Supper Club Culture

Take a fresh look at an Upper Midwest culinary tradition with Wisconsin Public Television’s newest documentary, Supper Clubs 101. The documentary is available online now and makes its television debut 7:30 p.m. this Thursday, July 23.

The documentary takes a behind-the-scenes look at the hometown restaurants that are serving hearty meals and a dose of nostalgia. From the history of the term “supper club” to a look at supper clubs’ symbiotic relationship with state agriculture, you’ll get a tasty tour of Wisconsin’s culinary history.

Dive into the history of Friday fish fries, a tradition that caught on during Prohibition, and explore how supper clubs’ nightly menus have been shaped by deep-rooted traditions.

In addition to a look at the history of supper clubs, Supper Clubs 101 explains how modern research conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is helping today’s supper clubs serve fresher produce, meat and dairy. It also includes a look at local brews with UW-Madison food science professor Jim Steele, who is supplying up-and-coming beer brewers with tools for better beer, thereby helping supper clubs draft pints with local flavor.

Be sure to watch online or tune in this Thursday!

Supper Clubs 101 is a co-production of Wisconsin Public Television and University Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Uncovering the Past: Wisconsin's Sustainable Agriculture

Harriet Behar of Organic Valley CROPPOver the past couple months we’ve been digging through our video library and making several classic programs available on-demand. We’ve uncovered a lot of gems, including the 1995 documentary Covering New Ground: Wisconsin’s Sustainable Agriculture. The picture may not be high-definition, but the subject matter certainly holds up in today’s consumer-conscience society.

In Covering New Ground, WPT talks with farmers around the state who choose sustainable methods to produce the food we eat. The film covers rotational grazing, urban farming, targeted herbicide use and more sustainable farming methods.

Chances are good you’ve heard of some of the farmers featured in the 20-year-old film. Organic Valley, Harmony Valley and Milwaukee’s Will Allen are some of the more well known farmers on the program.

Take a moment to look back on this classic documentary and to marvel at some sustainable business models that seem progressive even by today’s standards.

A WWII Veteran Pursues His Dreams in 'Clarence'

Clarence in the library
Director’s Cut “Clarence” airs 9 p.m. Friday, July 3 on Wisconsin Public Television.

This week on Director’s Cut we welcome Kristin Catalano, the creative force behind the documentary Clarence. Clarence tells the story of World War II veteran Clarence Garrett who decides to return to college to pursue his degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee after “cutting class” for more than 50 years.

It’s hard enough to stay focused on your education after a week-long spring break. Picture yourself returning to the world of academia after fighting in a war, raising a family and having a full career while now being hard of hearing, lacking computer skills and moving at a snail’s pace while going from class to class.

The film is a thumbnail of Clarence’s life, one spent overcoming obstacle after obstacle and doing so the only way Clarence knows how, with a never-say-die, can-do attitude. The story Catalano tells is not only inspiring but also uplifting. Clarence’s infectious personality elevates those around him with his “you’re only here once so why be anything but upbeat” attitude.

Catalano does a nice job of showing how Clarence immerses himself in campus life, making solid friendships with a generation of students at least twice removed from his own and engaging his professors in the process. There is no way anyone can not feel great about life while watching Clarence achieve his long postponed dream after making sacrifices to provide for his family and putting the academic needs of his children before his own.

The biggest challenge for Clarence, and possibly Catalano as director, was when Clarence was hospitalized shortly before completing his first semester, forcing him to fall behind. Clarence takes this in stride as just another of life’s inevitable hurdles. Since quitting never seems to have been an option for Clarence in his life, he pushes on as he has always done, with a determined yet whimsical grace.

Please put the bottle rockets down for an hour or so and join us for Director’s Cut on Wisconsin Public Television 9 p.m. Friday night to celebrate a nice little film about a great, inspiring American. Hope to see you then, indie film fans. Have a fun and safe 4th of July!