FORBES – John Legend is publicly renewing his efforts to save Underground, the ground-breaking, recently-cancelled series that humanizes and tells the stories behind the Underground Railroad. A popular social media and ratings darling, Underground aired on WGN America until Sinclair Broadcast Group made a bid for Tribune Media three months ago. Meanwhile, as the potential merger of the two companies was reviewed by the FCC, the two-year-old drama was deep sized. The series told the not-told-enough stories of the people who tried mightily to help the enslaved escape to freedom in the north United States and in Canada. Legend is an executive producer.
Since the cancellation, fans have tried to persuade OWN, Netflix and other networks (or streaming services) to host the series, which clocks in at around $4.5-million an episode and was selected as an inaugural public program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. No network has bitten yet (that we know of) and Legend took to Twitter to distribute an open letter discussing his thoughts on the matter. He castigates Sinclair Media’s choices in programming, saying the “far right” network turned away from high quality scripted shows to “cheaper unscripted entertainment.”
“The cast, producers and our studio Sony Pictures remain committed to a future for Underground because of a belief that this story is important and invaluable,” wrote Legend, who holds an Oscar, Tony and Grammys, “and i t remains our hope that not only is there a future for this show, but for many others like it.”
Legend then wrote this:
As storytellers, producers and creators of content for film and television, we have the power to take control of the narrative. As an executive producer of the crucially-acclaimed television series Underground, we’ve been proud to celebrate those like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass who were true American heroes whose legacy we can be proud of…. Along with the stories of historical luminaries, our series features fictionalized characters and plot lines directly inspired b y the courageous real narratives of the first integrated civil rights movement in the United States, the movement to abolish slavery.
You can read the entire letter below:
— John Legend (@johnlegend) September 27, 2017
The issue with the discontinuation of Underground ties into the larger conversation the nation is having about equality and discrimination, says Legend. Discussing the aftereffects of slavery has proven to be uncomfortable for many, but it’s history, so it is a necessary conversation. Here you have a popular TV show that offers a historical fictionalized narrative showing the full breadth and depth of a lifestyle that many call America’s original sin. At the same time you have a nation attempting to have an open conversation about the ramifications of enslavement – both economic and human – and getting squeamish when it comes to seeing broadcasted visuals affiliated with either the fight for civil rights or the reminders of why the push for civil rights even exists.
Given the number of cable and streaming networks that are taking chances on hard stories or difficult re-imaginings (such as HBO’s Confederate) it seems there ought to be space for powerful, uplifting American storytelling where the end result is abolition. And for those who could care less about abolition, the story is, at core, an adventure tale. The critically-acclaimed series starred Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge and Aisha Hinds.
The FCC has not yet approved the merger of Tribune and Sinclair. But, according to reports, Sinclair claims to have nothing to do with the cancellation of the show. A Sinclair rep told TV Spy this: “Sinclair Broadcast Group does not own WGN and has no influence on the programming decisions made by the channel.”