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Underground Is In Trouble As WGN America Pivots Away From Scripted TV

New ownership means a new direction

Cory Barker

The latest merger among media companies could mean trouble for one of TV's best shows.

Sinclair Media Group officially announced its purchase of Tribune Media on Monday, a deal that will give Sinclair control of more than 200 local TV stations and WGN America. In a conference call with Wall Street analysts, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley made it clear that WGN America will no longer invest in original scripted series.

"The ratings [on] WGN America doesn't justify the type of spending they do on the original programming side," Ripley said. "The channel could be run much more profitably on a fraction of what they spend on programming."

This puts Underground, a critical favorite and a solid basic cable performer that concludes its second season this Wednesday, in immediate jeopardy. While WGN America has not officially cancelled Underground, Variety reports that producer Sony will likely begin shopping the show around. Hulu, which has the show's exclusive streaming rights, would be a logical new home.

Underground's creator on what's next after that shocking opener

In what was the first sign toward a pivot, WGN America cancelled its other remaining scripted drama Outsiders, soon after its second season concluded last month. WGN America first got into original programming in 2014 with the witch drama Salem and the atomic bomb drama Manhattan. The future of Scalped, an adaptation of the DC Comics graphic novels that was in development, is now in doubt.

A trend appears to be emerging. In late April A+E, long the home of original dramas like Bates Motel, also announced that it would no longer spend on original scripted series moving forward. The TV production bubble may be bursting on basic cable, where unless you're AMC with The Walking Dead the ratings generally aren't high enough to justify costly drama series.