WGN America Cancels ‘Underground’

By Sameer Rao May 31, 2017

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.

"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:


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":

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.