Christopher Meloni to Star in WGN America's Straight-to-Series Slave Drama 'Underground'

'Friday Night Lights' alum Jurnee Smollett-Bell will co-star in the 10-episode drama.
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Christopher Meloni

WGN America is going straight-to-series with Underground, tapping Christopher Meloni to star in the slave drama.

Additionally, Friday Night Lights alum Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge (Rectify) and Jessica De Gouw (Arrow, Dracula) will join the cast of the 10-episode drama. Anthony Hemingway (The Wire, Treme) will direct the first two episodes.

The L.A.-based cable network first announced it was developing Underground in August, when it went straight to series with Outsiders, its Appalachia-set 13-episode series.

From creator Misha Green (Sons of Anarchy) and Joe Pokaski (Heroes), the Sony Pictures Television and Tribune Studios entry follows the slaves who set foot on the fabled Underground Railroad, the secret network of men and women who risked their lives aiding them and the mercenaries tasked with hunting them down at any cost. Executive producers include Green, Pokaski, Weed Road Pictures' Akiva Goldsman, Tory Tunnell and Joby Harold of Safehouse Pictures.

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Law & Order: SVU alum Meloni — who marks his return to drama following last season's short-lived comedy Surviving Jack — will play August, a secretive mercenary who walks a tightrope between survival and morality. Meloni had been getting multiple pilot offers this season, for both drama and comedy.

Smollett-Bell (Parenthood) will play Rosalee, a shy house slave with a powerful inner strength and courage; Hodge is set as Noah, a brave and clever slave on the plantation with dreams of freedom and a dangerous plan to escape; and De Gouw will portray Elizabeth, a socialite who shares her husband's abolitionist ideals. Additional castings are expected to be announced. Production begins in the spring for a 2016 premiere.

Underground marks WGN America's fifth straight-to-series order since the national cable network expanded into original scripted fare last year. It joins a roster of dramas including the second seasons of Salem and Manhattan — returning in April and the fall, respectively — as well as Outsiders (also from SPT) and is in preproduction on Ten Commandments.

Meloni is repped by Gersh and Industry Entertainment; Smollett-Bell is with ICM Partners, Storefront Entertainment and Fox Rothschild; Hodge is with Paradigm and Priluck; and De Gouw with UTA, RGM Artists, KTM Artist Group and Jackoway Tyerman.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
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