It looks like WGN America is out of the original scripted television business. Yesterday (May 30), the station canceled antebellum drama “Underground“—its only remaining scripted show—after two seasons.
A post shared by Underground (@undergroundwgn) on May 30, 2017 at 3:41pm PDT
“Despite ‘Underground’ being a terrific and important series, it no longer fits with our new direction and we have reached the difficult decision not to renew it for a third season,” Peter Kern, president and CEO of WGN America’s parent Tribune Media Company, said in an emailed statement.
That “new direction” stems from Tribune’s forthcoming $3.9 billion acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose CEO Chris Ripley told Deadline earlier this month that it would move move “[WGN America’s] strategy away from high-cost originals into more cost-effective originals and reruns.” Ripley said that the network ”doesn’t have a revenue problem,” but that the ratings don’t “justify the type of spending that they do on the original programming side.”
The Hollywood Reporter (THR) reports that each episode of the series about escaped slaves fighting for liberation costs about $5 million to make, and Deadline reported in March that the show’s second season debuted to 1.8 million viewers—about a half-million fewer than the first season’s premiere, which broke network debut records. “Underground” also earned tremendous critical praise, resulting in a 96 percent approval rating from review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
“It is our hope that this remarkable show finds another home and continues its stories of courage, determination and freedom,” Kern said in Tribune Media Company’s statement. Show creator Misha Green (“Heroes”) and stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell (“True Blood”) and Aldis Hodge (“Straight Outta Compton”) echoed that sentiment in their own social media posts, which encouraged fans to call on other networks to pick up the show:
Listen, we love you all. We hear you…we have the best fans in the world. Y’all been running with us for 2 seasons and are the reason we even got this far. Unfortunately, it’s true, WGN America cancelled #underground today. They were bought by Sinclair. Google them. They are going in a different direction and want to become the next Fox News. Arg. I wish I was telling you different news but just know we love you all and are grateful to everyone that has been running with us. Playing Rosalee has been the privilege of a lifetime. If you want a season 3, feel free to let the world know… #riseup #TheBlackRose
A post shared by Jurnee Smollett Bell (@jurneebell) on May 30, 2017 at 5:29pm PDT
After two seasons, it’s time for #UndergroundWGN to say goodbye. Unfortunately we will not be coming back for a 3rd season on #WGNAmerica I understand that this is tough news for a lot of people to hear and I know many have personally expressed their anger. But I encourage you to repurpose your anger in a positive way by sharing your passion for this show by reaching out to the network you would like to see us on. Thank you all so much for being so supportive over these two seasons. It’s been a fantastic ride and I can’t thank you enough for all of the love.
A post shared by Aldis Hodge (@aldis_hodge) on May 30, 2017 at 4:44pm PDT
Executive producer and supporting actor John Legend also tweeted, adding a warning regarding Sinclair, which watchdog group Media Matters for America describes as “a pro-GOP media conglomerate that has a long history of relying exclusively on conservative-leaning reporting and commentary”:
Content wins. We’re not reliant on a particular network to make great content. We’re so proud of our show and the audience that supported!— John Legend (@johnlegend) May 30, 2017
Be wary of Sinclair though. They’re trying to make local stations mini Fox Newses, but more to the right.— John Legend (@johnlegend) May 30, 2017
Feel free to drop some hints to the networks/streaming services you want to pick up #Underground. Show them who will be watching!— John Legend (@johnlegend) May 30, 2017
Anonymous sources told THR that BET and OWN both rejected the show, citing high production costs.
HBO recently tapped Green to adapt writer Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel ”Lovecraft Country“ into a horror/historical fiction miniseries. “Get Out” auteur Jordan Peele will produce the project about a Black army veteran’s journey through Jim Crow America to find his father.