WGN America has canceled “Underground,” its critically acclaimed drama about a group of runaway slaves and abolitionists fighting for freedom along the Underground Railroad, though its creators have vowed to find a new home for it.
Despite solid ratings and ample social media buzz around the show, which was produced by singer John Legend, the cancellation isn’t a complete surprise. Earlier this month, Sinclair Broadcast Group agreed to buy WGNA’s parent company, Tribune Media, in a $3.9 billion deal. As reported by Variety and others, the move means big changes for the network’s original programming. Chris Ripley, CEO of Sinclair, has said that WGNA’s ratings did not justify the cost of its programming.
“Underground’s” cancellation comes one month after WGNA the network canceled “Outsiders,” which pulled in its biggest ratings.
In a statement Tuesday, Peter Kern, president and CEO of the network’s parent company Tribune Media, confirmed that “Underground” would also be a casualty of the network’s new direction:
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 … It is our hope that this remarkable show finds another home and continues its stories of courage, determination and freedom.
Fans reacted with anger and sadness, with some noting the recent cancellation of Netflix’s “The Get Down,” which, like “Undergound,” boasted a predominantly black cast. Critics found “Underground” far superior in its storytelling, which expanded on the typical Hollywood slavery-era narrative, putting the story firmly in the hands of the Underground Railroad’s true heroes.
On Twitter, Legend pledged that the show “will find a new home.” He also urged fans to “drop some hints” to networks and streaming services. “Show them who will be watching,” the singer tweeted.
Co-creator Misha Green, recently tapped to be showrunner of Jordan Peele’s forthcoming HBO drama, echoed those sentiments. “We appreciate the outpouring of fan support,” she tweeted, adding “we’re determined to find a new network for ‘Underground.’”
Deadline reports that Hulu, which owns the streaming rights for “Underground,” has been considered as a possible new network for the show. According to the Hollywood Reporter, BET and OWN have already passed on acquiring the drama.