Why a Show Like Underground Fails on Television Despite Being Great

There are times when things simply don’t make sense on the surface, even in the world of television. There are times when there are shows that have all the makings of an excellent series that will be around for an almost endless number of seasons, and then out of nowhere, the show is canceled – little to no fanfare. One such show is Underground, which was just canceled after two seasons on WGN. This is a show that was executive produced by singer and entertainer, John Legend.

Not only was the show star studded, but it was well written and went to great lengths to provide historical context and historical accuracy. The basis of the show was set around the idea of chronicling the lives of runaway slaves and the abolitionist that worked so hard to help them find their freedom. Of course the legend of Harriet Tubman plays a significant role in the show, but it is about so much more.

It is a story about slavery in which the slaves took control of their destinies, whether they lived or died, they had determined that it would be on their terms. It was about, as Frederick Douglas once said, a time when slaves stop praying for freedom with their tongues, and started praying with their feet.

The show did an exceptional job casting light on the fact that there were many White people who did not support slavery – risking their lives and the livelihood to help slaves escape to freedom. For those who are truly historians and champion of a better life for Blacks in current-day America, it is shows like this that can provide a sense of identity – setting the foundation for healing and empowerment.

Unfortunately, what shows up in TV programming is not always about talent and quality. It can sometimes be about politics and budget cuts. The new CEO of WGN cited the need to reallocate funds to the implementation of a new strategy that would allow the network to compete in a rapidly evolving television landscape. The media landscape has been shifting for the last two decades as the internet has opened a lot of opportunities for independent talent in a manner that has lessened the influence and impact of television.

Television is driven by advertisers and distributors, but many advertisers are finding that they get much more mileage out of their advertising budget on social media and advertising on high-performing sites like YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram and more. While this is great for businesses and consumers, it is not so good for television.

In order for television broadcasters to remain relevant they must take into consideration the direction that the market is moving in, and then figure out the best way to remain relevant in this rapidly shifting industry.

On another note, executive producer, John Legend, has committed himself to finding another home for the show. With a bit of creativity, it is likely the show will land on fertile soil, a place that it will be able to blossom and explore its possibilities. The truth is that WGN was never the best place for the show. In fact, OWN or Oxygen or TV One would have all been better options over the long haul.

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