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‘Underground’ Canceled After 2 Seasons at WGN America

Variety logo Variety 5/30/2017 Joe Otterson
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WGN America has canceled “Underground” after two seasons, Variety has learned.

The series chronicled the lives of both runaway slaves and abolitionists in the pre-Civil War United States struggling for freedom in what would become known as the Underground Railroad. It starred Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge, Amirah Vann, Alano Miller, Christopher Meloni, and Jessica de Guow. Aisha Hinds joined the show in Season 2 as legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman. It was created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, who also executive produced alongside John Legend, Akiva Goldsman, Tory Tunnell, Joby Harold, Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius and Anthony Hemingway. Sony Pictures TV produced.

Peter Kern, the newly-minted president and CEO of WGNA parent company Tribune Media, issued the following statement:

“As WGN America evolves and broadens the scope and scale of its portfolio of series, we recently announced that resources will be reallocated to a new strategy to increase our relevance within the rapidly changing television landscape. This move is designed to deliver additional value for our advertising and distribution partners and offer viewers more original content across our air. 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. We are tremendously proud of this landmark series that captured the zeitgeist and made an impact on television in a way never before seen on the medium. We thank the incomparable creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski and the great John Legend, along with the talented creative team and cast who brought the unsung American heroes of the Underground Railroad to life. We are grateful to the loyal fans of ‘Underground’ and our partners at Sony Pictures Television. It is our hope that this remarkable show finds another home and continues its stories of courage, determination and freedom.”

Despite considerable critical praise for “Underground,” the cancellation comes as little surprise, given the fact that WGNA also recently canceled their other original series, “Outsiders,” which enjoyed higher ratings than “Underground” in its second season. Sinclair Broadcasting recently announced they will acquire Tribune Media, with plans to shift focus away from producing original series. Kern took over Tribune Media following the exit of CEO Peter Liguori, who announced his resignation in January. Ligouri came onboard in 2013 and invested heavily in developing original programming for the network, though the shows developed under his tenure failed to achieve ratings on par with their cost.

According to sources, Sony has been shopping “Underground” to other networks in anticipation of the cancellation. The studio engaged in preliminary talks with BET, but the deal did not come to pass. There has also been speculation that Oprah Winfrey’s OWN could pick up the series, but it is unclear at this time if those talks have taken place.

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report. 

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