By Jeanette Beebe ’14
On Dec. 7, in front of a full-house audience of star-struck undergraduates and artsy locals, David Zabel ’88 spoke from a stage that supported the early days of his career — literally. It was at 185 Nassau, the longtime home of the arts at Princeton, that he spent hours and hours at late-night rehearsals and intensive writing workshops.
Once he discovered the theater at Princeton, Zabel said, his other interests (history, for example) quietly faded away. It snapped his future into focus.
“I was interested in a bunch of different things,” he said. “It was just theater that embraced me — earliest and most fully.”
Zabel is now an award-winning television writer, producer, and director. He wrote more than 45 episodes of ER, the medical series on NBC. He was the showrunner of ER for the program’s final five years, and he was also the showrunner and executive producer of Detroit 1-8-7 and Betrayal (both on ABC).
Zabel returned to 185 Nassau not as an actor, as he’d been as a student, but as the co-creator and executive producer of a new six-part Civil War-era television series on PBS that premieres this January: Mercy Street. The first episode will air Jan. 17 at 10 p.m. (after Downton Abbey). Mercy Street, PBS’ first American-made drama in over a decade, is based on real events.
After a special preview screening of the show and a presentation of a short video about Zabel’s work, produced by the Lewis Center of the Arts, Zabel shared the stage with Mercy Street cast members Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother), McKinley Belcher III, and Tara Summers, and historians James McPherson and Audrey P. Davis. Continue reading