Since American Crime Story: Versace concluded last evening, we collectively and hungrily look ahead to the next installment in Ryan Murphy's collection of visually stunning reinterpretations of recent American history: Katrina. The third season of American Crime Story, Katrina, has been in the works for a while – originally, Katrina, not Versace, was supposed to follow The People v. O.J. Simpson. But one major factor led to Katrina's delay: A change in the source book.
So far, each season of American Crime Story has been heavily drawn from a main source book. For The People vs. O.J. Simpson, that book was The Run of His Life by Jeffrey Toobin. The lurid details about Andrew Cunanan and Gianni Versace in American Crime Story: Versace were pulled from Maureen Orth’s tell-all book, Vulgar Favors. And originally, Katrina was supposed to be based on the The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley, a 768-page epic that retells the events of Katrina from multiple narrative perspectives.
In August 2017, producers announced they were scrapping the season already cast and written, and pivoting to a season based on a different source book: Five Days at Memorial by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sheri Fink. Fink’s book explores the devastating days at New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital after the hurricane struck and the hospital lost power and running water, leaving critically ill patients to suffer. Thousands of patients and staff were trapped in the sweltering hospital, lacking food and water — 183 patients at the Memorial Medical Centre, and 55 at Life Care, the center that provided long-term treatment for aging and sick patients. Most patients at Life Care relied on ventilators to breathe. Some patients were rescued, but many were left, including all 55 Life Care patients.
After days trapped in the hospital, hospital staff — including Dr. Anna Pou, who will be played by Sarah Paulson in ACS — decided to euthanize the critically ill patients, who had little hope for rescue. Later, this controversial decision led to Pou and two nurses being prosecuted for homicide. Ultimately, a 2007 jury chose not to indict Pou and the nurses for second-degree murder.
Given the premise, you can probably understand why producers call the third season a medical and disaster thriller. Katrina is poised to be a riveting and devastating story of triage, of climate change, of natural disaster, of morally ambiguous decisions. In an article about Pou and Memorial for the New York Times, Fink summed up the many questions this story raises, which will surely be explored in American Crime Story: “Which patients should get a share of limited resources, and who decides? What does it mean to do the greatest good for the greatest number, and does that end justify all means? Where is the line between appropriate comfort care and mercy killing? How, if at all, should doctors and nurses be held accountable for their actions in the most desperate of circumstances, especially when their government fails them?”
Brad Simpson, an American Crime Story executive producer, explained the pitfalls of their earlier, broader approach to the hurricane. "We realized as we were approaching Katrina, we had a really good first script, but then the storytelling was too big beyond that. We were taking on too much, and we realized this show needs to be contained and precise, even when we're telling an epic story. We were trying to deal with too many characters,” Simpson told reporters at TCA.
The portion of the script about Memorial Hospital shone through the rest, and so producers decided to focus on this aspect of the story. "Our best scripts were about Memorial Hospital, and the people who were trapped there,” Simpson said. “Doctors who started out trying to save lives, ended up euthanizing patients. It tracks everything that happened in Katrina. There's people of different classes and races, all in that hospital. There are people that feel like they've been abandoned by their government, and there are people who are making decisions about triage, who lives and who dies, that outside of that bubble look horrific."
Aside from Sarah Paulson, who will play Pou, the cast has yet to be announced. American Crime Story: Katrina is set to premiere in 2019.
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