New Apple TV+ series Five Days at Memorial tells the true account of five harrowing days in a New Orleans hospital in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.


Across eight episodes it chronicles events after the floodwaters rose and power failed, leaving exhausted caregivers to make decisions that would eventually lead to a criminal investigation.

The drama has its roots in Sheri Fink's 2013 non-fiction book Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, and according to co-creator Carlton Cuse, the author proved to be of vital importance to the creative team when it came to adapting her work.

"Sheri was a very active participant in the process," he told "Not only is her book amazing, but then behind that were just mountains of other resources and research.

"She had an encyclopedia of photographs which she provided to our production design team so we could really authentically recreate what it looked like in the hospital and build the hospital set with a very high degree of fidelity.

He added: "I remember Sheri came down to the set to visit and I think she was kind of stunned when she was walking around – she had been one of the first people in the hospital after the waters receded and the place was still in a state of complete disarray.

"And I think it was kind of a shock to her to see how accurately we had recreated, at least for her, what that experience was like."

But even if Cuse was determined to keep things as accurate as possible from a visual point of view – and to truly get across the panic that the hospital's inhabitants must have felt – he's also keen to stress that the series is "an adaptation and a dramatisation".

More like this

And so although most of the major events depicted in the series did happen as they are shown, the writers did have to use their imagination when it came to certain conversations and more minor plot points.

"John [Ridley, co-writer] and I were going for sort of an emotional truth," Cuse explained. "We wanted to convey the emotional truths of what these characters were experiencing. But I think a feeling of authenticity and really trying to hew to the facts as much as we could within our adaptation is something that was very important."

Vera Farmiga
Vera Farmiga in Five Days at Memorial. Apple

Two of the most important characters in the series are Dr Anna Pou and Susan Mulderick, played respectively by Vera Farmiga and Cherry Jones.

Pou was a doctor at the Memorial Medical Center who continued caring for patients even as the flooding became catastrophic, but instead of being regarded as a hero after the worst was over, she found herself arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder.

The reason for the arrest was that several patients had died in her care before the effects of the hurricane had subsided, perhaps relating to some of the snap-shot decisions that had to be made in the chaos of the incident.

The charges were eventually dropped after a grand jury refused to indict her, and Farmiga said she very quickly became an advocate for her character when reading up on the real Dr Pou.

"This is a woman who was a very skillful surgeon who didn't have to be there, but chose to show up,” Farmiga told

"She could have evacuated, she wasn't slated to work, but she showed up because she wanted to be there and she wanted to help people.

"And for me, it was really just about getting into her headspace, to embody all of that – the striving, the fear, the perseverance, the determination, the will to keep patients comfortable and to alleviate suffering."

Mulderick, meanwhile, was the hospital’s incident commander, the person who ended up taking responsibility for a lot of the decisions regarding procedures.

"She’s a 54-year-old mother of two boys who started working at Memorial right out of high school," Jones explains in the production notes for the series.

"I sense that she could be very tough and incredibly compassionate at the same time. She wielded a great deal of authority and people apparently stood a little taller when she walked into the room."

Speaking to, she added that she became such an advocate for her character that she ended up occasionally trying to change what Cuse and Ridley had written.

"I can remember at moments going up to Carlton or John, and questioning something they'd written," she said. "Saying, ‘Oh, she wouldn't say that’, sort of forgetting that they have written every square inch of this script, and they might know what they are talking about!"

Despite doing a lot of research into their characters, however, Farmiga and Jones were both keen to echo Cuse’s comments that this is "not a biopic".

"It’s interesting because I am playing a dramatisation of the book," said Jones. "And so I'm not really playing the woman who's written about in the book.

"Because there's no way that the woman who was written about in the book would say what I say because it's written by John and Carlton out of their imaginations.

"So as much as I used Sheri's discussion (and when it came to my character, I wanted to know what she had to say about it), who I was playing was ultimately so different than that person. In the first place, I'm 10 years older than the person in the actual event!"

Cherry Jones
Cherry Jones in Five Days at Memorial. Apple

Farmiga also pointed out that the real people the characters were based on were never directly involved in the process, and that ultimately Fink’s book "was our Bible".

"It was incredibly helpful in terms of creating a really fully-dimensional portrait for me of the character," she said.

"If someone was playing me I would want them to talk to everybody I know – don't just talk to me about it, because I would give you a very specific perspective on how I want to be portrayed.

"But if you go to my brothers, and you go to my daughter, and you go to my trainer you're gonna get a fuller picture. And Sheri's just brilliant and such a detail oriented writer and kept so many copious notes and had so many different testimonies."

Asked how he hopes viewers will react to the series, Cuse said he and Ridley went to great lengths to ensure the drama wasn't simply a didactic exercixce – in order that audiences could come to their own conclusions about the events.

"It was very important for John and I that we didn't take a position on the decisions that were made," he said. "We really wanted to try to advocate for each of the characters and really give the viewer a chance to decide. And I think people will come down in different places on that.

"I think that's actually really interesting," he added. "And I hope it provokes discussion about what is or isn't the right thing to do in a circumstance like this. And it's hard. I think in situations where there is medical rationing, there are no right decisions, there is no simple solution.

"And I think we just wanted, we felt like by presenting all sides of this, it really put the viewer in a position of having to engage and think about what they themselves would do if they were in this kind of circumstance."

The first three episodes of Five Days at Memorial are streaming on Apple TV+ from Friday 12th August 2022, with further instalments released weekly thereafter. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.


The latest issue of Radio Times magazine is on sale now – subscribe now and get the next 12 issues for only £1. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times podcast with Jane Garvey.