'Underground' Seeks New Home as Sinclair Deal Leads to "Complete Pause" at WGN America

Underground Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Steve Dietl/WGN

The cable network may do away with scripted, according to one agency insider, as Sony Pictures TV puts out feelers on its critical darling, which wraps its second season May 10.

What will happen to WGN America?

The cable network's future as a destination for high-end, high-cost scripted originals is likely over in the wake of parent company Tribune Media's $3.9 billion planned acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group. Tribune Media president and CEO Peter Kern, who replaced Peter Liguori this year, foreshadowed as much when he canceled WGN America's top-rated drama Outsiders in April despite the network notching its most watched quarter in history. At the time, Kern claimed the surprising move was meant to reallocate resources "to a more diverse programming strategy" that would be more cost-effective and reach a broader audience.

That leaves only slave drama Underground, which wraps its second season on May 10 as it awaits word on its future. Sources say producer Sony Pictures Television already is making calls to find a new home for the critical darling, which carries a $5 million per episode price tag and already has an SVOD deal with Hulu.

On the pilot side, WGN America was readying DC Comics take Scalped, with producer Warner Bros. Television also rumored to be exploring other potential homes for the adaptation.

Sinclair, meanwhile, will seek to reduce costs for the cable network in a bid to become, as one source joked, more like ION Television — which has no scripted originals and airs syndicated repeats of procedurals including CBS' Blue Bloods and Criminal Minds as well as low-cost Canadian imports.

"It's a complete pause at WGN America," notes one agency insider. "It's unclear if they'll still have scripted there. I had something being shopped there, and talks suddenly just stalled. They're figuring out what they're going to do and if they even continue on with scripted."

For now, WGN America president and general manager Matt Cherniss, who was brought in to concentrate on high-end scripted originals, remains under contract. But given the network's change in focus, it's highly likely he'll exit.

There is speculation that Sinclair will use its newfound heft — the addition of Tribune's 42 stations gives it channels in more than 70 percent of U.S. households — to launch a competitor to Fox News.

This story first appeared in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.