A week after WGN America touted its most watched primetime month in history, the network has canceled its most watched series, drama Outsiders, after two seasons. The decision comes ahead of Outsiders‘ April 25 Season 2 finale, which will now serve as a series finale, at least on WGN America. I hear producing studio Sony TV will try to shop the drama elsewhere though WGNA’s decision came very late, leaving a very tight window for finding a new home.
Fueled by WGNA’s two remaining original scripted series, Outsiders and Underground, the network just posted its best monthly primetime delivery in history in March 2017 among total viewers ( 446K in L+3, +7% v. 2016) and the best month in 7 years among Adults 25-54 (141K, +15%). Outsiders, the stronger performer in Live+Same Day, averages 2 million total viewers and 874K Adults 25-54 across Tuesday nigh in L3. At 9 PM, the Appalachian drama averages more than 1.3 million viewers and 628K adults 25-54, an +305% increase over the network’s prior time period average in viewers and +250% in A25-54 (L3).
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There has been a big change at WGNA parent Tribune Media since Outsiders and Underground were renewed for a second season last spring. Tribune President and CEO Peter Liguori, who spearheaded the building and relaunch of WGNA as a cable network for premium original scripted programming, left the company last month. He was succeeded by Peter Kern, who was named interim President and CEO.
Speculation about a potential Tribune sale, which has been going on for years, intensified recently after a report about a potential merger with Sinclair, with Nextstar among other potential suitors. There have been rumors about potentially stripping the company to get it ready for a sale though in a statement about Outsiders‘ cancellation, Kern stresses that the company’s intends to “expand” WGNA’s original content and to “be reallocating our resources to a more diverse programming strategy and to new structures.” Here is his full statement:
After three years of investing in marquee, brand-defining dramas, WGN America has successfully expanded its audience, its reach, and its presence in the minds of viewers. In our next phase, we intend to expand our original and unique content to continue growing our relevance and appeal to the widest possible audience. To achieve this, we will be reallocating our resources to a more diverse programming strategy and to new structures, enabling us to expand both the quantity and breadth of content aired by WGN America. This move is designed to deliver even more value to our advertising and distribution partners. To free up the resources to reach this goal, we will unfortunately not be renewing Outsiders. We are grateful to our production partners at Sony Pictures Television and the terrifically talented people who made the show possible.
While it has upside potential, as the strong ratings indicate, right now Outsiders is said to still be losing money, which is normal for this stage in the series’ run. Removing it would help Tribune’s current balance sheet. It also probably makes sense if a network is being sold and the plans are to take its programming in a different direction, which appears to be the case with WGNA.
As for the future of Underground, which has drawn critical praise in addition to its strong ratings performance, “We are pleased with the performance and broad critical success of Underground, and are deliberating a series renewal,” said Rita Cooper Lee, EVP, Communications, WGN America and Tribune Studios.
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