'Outsiders' Canceled After Two Seasons as WGN America Plots New Direction

Outsiders Still - H 2016
Courtesy of WGN America

WGN America is ending its highest-rated scripted original.

Outsiders has been canceled after two seasons on the Tribune-owned cable network, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

The drama, about a family of outsiders in the hills of Appalachia and living off the grid, will air its second season-turned-series finale on April 25 at 10 p.m.

To hear Tribune Media president and CEO Peter Kern tell it, the surprising cancelation is part of a change in scripted direction for the cabler. Producers Sony Pictures Television plan to shop the series, which was developed specifically for WGN America, in the coming weeks.

"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," Kern said Friday in a statement to THR. "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."

The cancelation comes as a surprise as the Peter Mattei-created drama starring David Morse, Joe Anderson and Ryan Hurst ranks as WGN America's most-watched scripted original with an average of 2 million total viewers. The network is fresh off its second consecutive quarter of growth and its best quarter in primetime in seven years among total viewers and adults 35-54.  

Outsiders was one of a small handful of scripted originals at WGN America. The cancelation leaves WGNA's slate with slave drama Underground, a critical darling co-produced by Sony Pictures Television and Tribune Studios. The network previously handed out a straight-to-series order for a Ten Commandments miniseries, though it has not aired. On the pilot side, the cabler is readying DC Comics take Scalped and recently passed on Roadside Picnic.

Outsiders becomes the third scripted original to be canceled at WGN America, joining Salem — its first in the space — and Manhattan.

For WGN America, the decision to pivot in a new scripted direction comes at a crucial time in the industry. With more than 450 scripted originals on broadcast, cable, premium and streaming, the competition for eyeballs has become fiercely competitive for fringe networks without a signature hit to build on. Fringe networks like Esquire (which recently shuttered its linear network in favor of a digital platform) are starting to vanish from the landscape amid growing concerns for an a la carte world. 

For Tribune, the decision comes months after Kern replaced Peter Liguori as CEO of Tribune Media. During his five-year run, Tribune sold real estate property — including Chicago's famed Tribune Tower — and, more recently, scrapped its planned digital news site Tribune.com weeks before its debut.