A few days after WGN America boasted about having the best monthly audience delivery in the history of the network in March, thanks to its original series, “Outsiders” and “Underground,” the cable channel owned by Tribune Media announced that it had canceled its most watched series – “Outsiders” – after two seasons, which many found quite odd, especially fans of the program. Why would any network cancel its best-performing show? It certainly wasn’t critic ratings, because the series has a 78% Rotten Tomatoes rating, and a 63 out of 100 score on Metacritic, both suggesting generally favorable reviews by critics.
So what gives? per a statement by the network, it wants to “free up the resources” to reach a set goal of “a more diverse programming strategy and to new structures.” Here’s the full press statement: “After three years of investing in marquee, brand-defining dramas, WGN America has successfully expanded its audience, its reach, and its presence in the minds of viewers. In our next phase, we intend to expand our original and unique content to continue growing our relevance and appeal to the widest possible audience. To achieve this, we will be reallocating our resources to a more diverse programming strategy and to new structures, enabling us to expand both the quantity and breadth of content aired by WGN America. This move is designed to deliver even more value to our advertising and distribution partners. To free up the resources to reach this goal, we will unfortunately not be renewing Outsiders. We are grateful to our production partners at Sony Pictures Television and the terrifically talented people who made the show possible.”
Speculating on what all that means, and considering the fact that, of their 2 hit shows, they kept the one with a black starring cast even though it’s not performing as well as the one they did cancel, the network wants to offer more programming that will obviously appeal to a diverse audience, something that maybe “Outsiders” wasn’t doing, even though it has been their biggest draw. I’m reminded of the switch that the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) made after its first year or so, when it went from being a network with broad appeal, to one that now targets almost entirely a black female audience, after one of its early series with a black cast (“Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s”), outshined all the others. Might WGN America ride “Underground’s” success, and build a new lineup around it (thanks in part to the show’s rabid fans, routinely helping it trend high on Twitter when it airs, and critical acclaim)?
Again, all speculation. After all, “diverse programming” doesn’t only mean adding new programming with black faces; it could refer to so much else, including the kind of programming. For example, maybe they want to expand into reality TV shows, true crime, game shows, etc.
And as of today, with just 3 episodes left in the season, it should be noted that “Underground” has not yet been renewed by the network, despite all the acclaim and strong ratings. In response to that, Rita Cooper Lee, EVP Communications, WGN America and Tribune Studios, said in the same press statement referenced above: “We are pleased with the performance and broad critical success of ‘Underground,’ and are deliberating a series renewal.”
Not entirely assuring for fans of the series; especially after they just axed the network’s most-watched series in terms of eyeballs. You’d think that a renewal for “Underground” would be a guarantee; but then again, fans of “Outsiders” probably thought the same thing. I’d be shocked however if WGN did cancel “Underground.” There likely would be some major backlash from die-hard fans of the series, of which there are many – the kind of thing that a network would find very difficult to fully recover from.
But it appears, based on the above statements, that the network is seemingly trying to find an identity to build on from here-on; it’s something that at least 2 other networks are currently undergoing – ABC Family becoming Freeform this season, and Spike TV becoming The Paramount Network, beginning next TV season.
Needless to say, we’ll be paying close attention to what happens with WGN and its one remaining hit show in “Underground” whose renewal they are “deliberating.”
In the meantime, those who don’t have WGN, and thus haven’t been able to watch any of season 2, you should know that Hulu has announced that season 2 will become available on May 18 – about 2 weeks after the season finale episode. So your binge-watch dreams are just about a month away! Season 1 is currently streaming on Hulu.