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‘Underground’ Canceled After Two Seasons, Officially Taking WGN America Out of the Drama Game

The network's new strategy apparently no longer includes trying to win Emmys. 

Underground Season 2

WGN America

Tribune Media has officially canceled the critically acclaimed “Underground,” and with that, WGN America is now out of the quality period drama game.

“Underground,” which depicted the pre-Civil War fight for freedom during an era of slavery, will not be continuing for a third season on WGN America, although producer Sony Pictures Television is said to be aggressively looking to find a new home for the show (but doesn’t have anything to announce yet).

READ MORE: With ‘People v. O.J. Simpson’ and ‘Underground,’ Director Anthony Hemingway Is Redefining TV’s Approach to Race

“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,” Peter Kern, President and CEO, Tribune Media Company, said in a statement. “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.”

Right from the beginning “Underground,” created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, brought visual flair and complex characters to an incredibly tough topic. The series featured a large cast of both established cast members like Christopher Meloni, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge, while also featuring breakout performances from Alano Miller, Aisha Hinds, and Jessica de Gouw. The show was also a critically acclaimed hit, and with the help of an aggressive marketing and press strategy, even wound up at the White House, in an event with President Obama.

“Underground” was the last remaining original drama of WGN America’s foray into scripted content, following the cancelation earlier this year of “Salem” and “Outsiders,” which was canceled despite high ratings. Those shows, plus the previously axed “Manhattan,” represented an effort to create prestige television in the peak TV era, but weren’t able to build much buzz in a crowded landscape. “Manhattan” did win one Emmy during its two season run — for Outstanding Main Title Design.

Tribune had high hopes for WGN America, which was morphed into a basic cable network from its previous status as a superstation. (WGN America evolved from being a national feed of Chicago’s WGN-TV.) Former Tribune CEO Peter Liguori, who had earlier run FX, brought FX alum Matt Cherniss on board to reinvent the cable network into a home for upscale drama. But Liguori left in January, as Tribune Media began to shed assets in search of a buyer.

Earlier this month, Sinclair Broadcasting set a $3.9 billion agreement to acquire Tribune, which includes the company’s major market TV stations and WGN America. (It’s believed Sinclair is also interested in using those local stations to help create a new conservative-leaning news outlet.) A slimmed-down WGN America will now focus on more unscripted original fare in addition to programming acquisitions.

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