Oprah Says OWN Network ‘Can’t Afford’ ‘Underground’

“I wanted to be able to save that show, but it did not make good business sense for me,” says media maven

Oprah Winfrey
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Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network won’t be the new home for series “Underground,” she said Tuesday during a press event for the series “Queen Sugar,” Refinery29 reports.

Since the show — produced by John Legend — was cancelled, fans have been trying to get it onto another network or streaming service.

Although Winfrey says she is a fan, too, she said her network just couldn’t afford the steep price attached to a period piece. “I can’t afford ‘Underground,’” she said. “It cost twice as much to make as ‘Queen Sugar.’” As a matter of fact, my dear friend John Legend called me personally and asked me about it, but we’d already been talking about how we could make it work […] it’s like $5 million an episode, so we can’t afford it. It’s not cheap, I think because it’s a period piece.”

Winfrey added: “We really tried to make it work… I wanted to make it work because I think it’s a good show. I wanted to be able to save that show, but it did not make good business sense for me.”

The show’s cancellation came after WGN America’s parent company Tribune Media was purchased by the Sinclair Group in May. Sinclair’s CEO, Chris Ripley, said the network would be shifting away from scripted TV shows. “The ratings [on] WGN America doesn’t justify the type of spending they do on the original programming side,” Ripley said in an interview with TV Guide.

Legend has encouraged fans to contact networks to show support for the show. This type of move is not unprecedented–NBC’s “Timeless” was brought out of cancellation after a swell of support from fans.

“Underground” is a critical darling starring Aisha Hinds, Aldis Hodge and Jurnee Smollett-Bell. The series, which was cancelled after two seasons, takes place on the cusp of the Civil War and tells the story of slaves’ attempts to escape.


BET and Hulu–which owns the streaming rights–have also been approached as possible homes for “Underground.”