“For us, it was really important I think once we started to do the research, and we really started to realize this kind of void of seeing those who were enslaved have personal agency, have their own stories, love, laugh, cry, suffer,” said Underground executive producer Misha Green of the recently renewed WGN America series about the Underground Railroad. She spoke during the series’ panel at Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys all-day event April 10 in front of a packed house at the DGA Theater.
“Almost everything had a root in something we read or something we listened to,” added co-creator and fellow EP Joe Pokaski of the material they found in the Library of Congress, slave narratives, and other sources. “We have seasons and seasons worth of stories we still want to tell.”
With the penultimate episode of Season 1 airing tonight, the harrowing and compelling Underground is amazingly the first TV series to examine the journey and escape of thousands of slaves to free states and Canada in the 19th century in what was one of the most fascinating and defiant parts of American history.
Picked up for a full-season order in February 2015, the 10-episode first season of Underground focuses on the field slaves and house slaves of a Georgia plantation who begin a pre-Civil War 600-mile trek northward for their freedom and dignity. The ensemble cast includes True Blood’s Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Straight Outta Compton’s Aldis Hodge, Jane The Virgin’s Alano Miller, Jessica de Gouw, Law & Order: SVU alum Christopher Meloni, Amirah Vann and Justified’s Mykelti Williamson, among others.
The series, which has John Legend overseeing its soundtrack and as an EP, debuted to record-breaking ratings for WGN America on March 9 and has stayed strong for the channel ever since.
Click on the video above to see my conversation with Green and Polaski. As both exec producers note, this 19th century tale has a lot to say to a 21st century audience.