T Dog’s Media Notepad: “Underground” dropped by WGN America

Also: Clean May sweep for ABC 7; another shot-in-Chicago drama canceled; Hawk Harrelson calls it a career; a note regarding T Dog Media

As expected, WGN America announced the cancellation of slavery-era drama Underground this week as the cable channel is changing owners. As you know by now, Sinclair is buying WGN owner Tribune, and in a conference call the day the merger was announced, said they were steering away from scripted programming as several other scripted shows (Outsiders and Manhattan) were already axed.

Nevertheless, the critically-acclaimed Underground drew new viewers to a channel once known for WGN-TV programming from Chicago, including Bozo, Cubs baseball, and syndicated Tribune Entertainment programming such as At The Movies. Underground was executive produced by singer-songwriter John Legend.

Currently, a stay has been placed on the FCC rule changes that would enable Sinclair to purchase Tribune. But the stay is expected to be lifted soon, and the sale is likely to proceed.

Meanwhile, Underground is currently being pitched to other cable and streaming schedules including Hulu, who holds the streaming rights to underground. However, OWN and Netflix have reportedly passed on the show.

Speaking of Netflix, the streaming service announced the cancellation of Sense8, a sci-fi series shot in Chicago after two seasons. Created by J. Michael Straczynski and Lana and Lilly Wachowski, the show centered on eight individuals who connected with each other around the globe.

The announcement comes as Netflix announced it wasn’t going forward with another series, The Get Down also after two seasons. It’s hard to pinpoint why both shows abruptly ended their runs; Netflix does not release numbers on how many people are viewing their shows. And there may be more to come: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said to CNBC at a conference in California that his service needs to cancel more shows – in order to push the content team. To date, Netflix has canceled only a handful of shows. The move comes as “Peak TV” has indeed peaked, as cable networks such as MTV, A&E, and as noted above, WGN America have either cut back or completely eliminated scripted programming.

Still, the cancellation of Sense8 marks the latest shot-in-Chicago program to depart our fine city. In recent weeks, the boom was lowered on drams Chicago Justice and APB, in addition to Steve Harvey shifting his daytime talk show to Los Angeles.

You can put this on the board: Ken “Hawk” Harrelson announced Wednesday he was retiring from his Chicago White Sox announcing duties after the 2018 season, marking eight decades in the game of baseball. Harrelson signed a final deal with a very limited schedule – twenty home games, mainly on Sundays. For the last two years, Harrelson has been doing mostly road games, with Jason Benetti handling home contests.

On the same day Harrelson announced his retirement, Benetti received a multi-year extension with the White Sox, becoming the primary play-by-play announcer with Steve Stone.

After a short stint as GM, Harrelson rejoined the White Sox in 1990 as play-by-play announcer, paired with former White Sox player Tom Pachoiek. The duo initially were praised for their style as Harrelson’s phrases such as “Can Of Corn” and “You Can Put It on The Board, Yes!” became instant catch phrases. But in recent years, Harrelson has been criticized in the media for his actions in the booth, notably for him ranting about an umpire during a White Sox-Rays game in 2012. Some White Sox fans also became tired with his style. Sports media website Awful Announcing often rates Harrelson as one of the worst baseball announcers in the game.

By contrast, Benetti’s play-by-play has been praised by fans and critics alike, and a breath of fresh air compared to Harrelson. Consider this promotion well-deserved.

All together now: it was a clean sweep for ABC-owned WLS-TV as the station once again won every afternoon and evening news time slot in households and 25-54 demo, according to TVNewscheck. While the station credited its investigate content and team effort, the station no doubt received a boost from former Chicago Cubs player David Ross’ appearances on Dancing With The Stars, which also boosted the station in primetime – not to mention the dizzying number of tie-ins with their newscasts.

Also boosting WLS was Wheel Of Fortune celebrating Chicago with a week of shows featuring area contestants. 

While WLS topped the market, there is ongoing concern over the continuing ratings decline of the 10 p.m. news audience. According to Chicago Business Journal, WLS did win at 10 p.m., but the number (7.0 in households) was down 10 percent from May 2016. Also down at 10 was NBC-owned WMAQ-TV (5.1, -27%), while independent WGN was up slightly (2.9, +4%) and CBS’ WBBM-TV was flat with a 2.7.  The situation mirrors a similar decline reported in 2014 as Chicago lost more 25-54 news viewers than any other top ten market, excluding Boston.

As a source in Robert Feder’s blog cited “news fatigue” as part of the reason, there is no doubt the current news cycle of negative headlines involving Chicago and Illinois in general could be driving viewers away from their sets. But with advertising demand still strong for local news (notably from automotive and political – already, Governor Rauner and candidate J. B. Pritzker are already on the air with spots), don’t look for Chicago stations to subtract newscasts from their airwaves anytime soon.

Finally, regarding the pending closure of another website covering local media, I want everyone to know T Dog Media is here to stay. The secret to success of this site is the writing – no gimmicks, no message boards, no donation buttons, no traffic updates, no weather, and no special features to run up the hosting bill. When I started this venture in 2006, I wrote on Blogger’s platform for several years. The only “museum” I have is just a regular blog post about bad TV.

Yours truly also doesn’t brag about how many site visitors he has… no one cares about that.

The bottom line is this – you don’t need a fancy platform to get your work out – TV writer Ken Levine’s blog is terrific and he uses Blogger and even has his podcasts on it. Also great is Robert Feder’s blog – it’s very clean and simple to read.

And having a good social media presence matters. T Dog Media is on Twitter, Facebook (though I only posted the blog’s links at the moment), LinkedIn (a photo of myself is on there if you want to see what I looked like…in 2008), YouTube, and is working on getting an Instagram page up. With social media, you really don’t need an expensive website to put everything on.

With that said, T Dog Media is looking for a cheaper host. But if this doesn’t work out, I can always return to Blogger. I’ll keep you updated. But as always, thanks for your support.

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