Saturday, September 18, 2021

BET May Be Last Hope for ‘Underground’ After Netflix Reportedly Passes

Jurnee Smollett Bell - "Underground" 203 "Ache" (WGN)
Jurnee Smollett Bell – “Underground” 203 “Ache” (WGN)

*Operation Save “Underground” isn’t looking so good.

Efforts to rescue the acclaimed drama after WGN America’s new owners let it go have reportedly hit more snags after Oprah Winfrey said earlier this week that her network OWN couldn’t afford to run it.

BET and streaming service Hulu are reportedly still in the picture after Netflix passed on the drama, according to Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva. She points out that “Underground’s” production home, Sony Pictures TV, “probably has more saved shows post-cancellation than any other studio in the past decade, most recently the dramatically un-canceled ‘Timeless’ by NBC this season.”

She says the studio “sprung into action when WGNA last week opted not to pick up ‘Underground’ for a third season. There are no takers yet but I hear the studio is not throwing in the towel yet, taking another shot at a possible deal with BET and Hulu.”

More details below, via Deadline’s Andreeva:

Sony actually began exposing Underground to other networks back in April when the writing was already on the wall at WGNA in the wake of the cancellation of Sony-produced drama Outsiders, with BET, OWN and Hulu, which has Underground’s streaming rights, as main targets. I hear back then BET came close to a deal…before the Viacom cable network pulled out.

I hear Hulu had been willing to stay involved as a streaming partner for Underground, possibly in a shared deal similar to the one it has with CMT for Nashville, but would not step up to take in outright the praised period drama, whose price tag is said to be around or north of $4.5 million an episode.

I hear Sony TV explored other streaming services that can handle high-end series, including Netflix, which passed. That left the studio with the option of finding a cable network that could do the show in tandem with Hulu.

With OWN out, the number of options for Underground has dwindled. I hear BET may be back in the picture, and there may be a last-ditch effort to make a deal there.

BET had been considered the most suitable home because of the network’s strong position in the African American community and its long-standing efforts to shed light on key events and figures in black history, most recently with the miniseries The Book Of Negroes. Additionally, BET is part of Viacom, which already found a business model to afford an equally expensive drama series, ABC’s Nashville, which airs on CMT with a streaming window on Hulu — the type of deal Underground would be seeking too.

The odds are long, but I hear Sony TV plans to push through until it runs out of avenues to pursue. And if there is hope, the studio would extend the actors whose options are coming up at the end of this month while it continues efforts to keep Underground alive.

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