Producers of WGN America‘s upcoming pre-Civil War drama Underground blasted the trivialization of slavery by those who use the horrific history as a metaphor for everything from Obamacare to gun control. “We’ve seen a lot of hyperbolic comparison,” said exec producer Akiva Goldsman at a TCA panel today. “Everything is ‘slavery’, everything is ‘the Holocaust.’ These words have specific meaning. It’s the corruption of words that begins the corruption of ideas. That is terrifying,”
Underground follows a group of slaves who escape from a Georgia plantation, traveling 600 miles to freedom and aided along the way by a secret abolitionist couple running a station along the Underground Railroad. The slaves are tracked by a group tasked with bringing them back dead or alive.
The era of the Underground Railroad, Goldsman said, “is a period of time in our history which has somehow become obscured by shadow. It’s not taught, we don’t learn it…it’s the vanishing of our past, and therefore the whole wonderful notion we are doomed to repeat it becomes ever more likely.”
Underground, he added quickly, is “not teaching history here, but this is the truth of where we come from.” Goldsman said the series is designed to be both entertainment and “edifying.”
John Legend, also an exec producer and who wrote some of the music for the series, said the music was not “too stuck in the period.” The goal, he said, is to make a program that “feels relevant now.”
One TV critic noted that nearly all of the first-season’s characters are “running” and asked whether the characters and cast would be brought back for a second season. “We can’t spoil it!” creator/EP Misha Green said. “You’re going to be excited, come Episode 10,” creator/EP Joe Pokaski added coyly.
WGN America ‘s president and GM Matt Cherniss this morning announced that Underground‘s premiere will air commercial-free on March 9, by which time WGN America will be available in more than 80M homes under a new distribution deal with Cablevision in New York. WGN America has ordered 10 episodes for Season 1, from Sony Pictures TV and Tribune Studios.
Underground‘s ensemble cast includes Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge, Christopher Meloni, Alano Miller, Jessica de Gouw, Marc Blucas, Adina Porter, Mykelti Williamson, Amirah Vann, Johnny Ray Gill, Chris Chalk, Reed Diamond, Theodus Crane, and Renwick Scott.