“Underground”: Dish Network Removes WGN America, Provokes Jesse Jackson’s Ire

WGN America has hit gold with its newest drama, Underground. But for whatever reason, Dish Network decided to take WGN America out of its lineup of stations.

Jesse Jackson has released a statement through his Rainbow Push Coalition, condemning Dish’s removal of the station. In part, the statement reads:

In the letter, Reverend Jackson states that DISH has undervalued the series’ record-setting ratings and African American viewers in much the same way “the old south counted African Americans as three-fifths of a man.”

DISH’s decision to force WGN America off its distribution system is especially troubling since high-quality programs like “Underground”—in which the African-American characters are heroic, their struggle inspirational, and the audience diverse—don’t make it to air very often. When they do, they should be celebrated, not put at risk as DISH has recklessly done.

The negotiations between Dish and Tribune, the parent company of WGN America, have deteriorated, which led to Dish taking WGN America off. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Dish stated that “Tribune rejected its offers for an extension during negotiations.” Dish also stated that Charlie Ergen, the head of Dish, “invited Jackson and Tribune CEO Peter Liguori for a meeting on Thursday for what ‘could be a sharing of ideas that would have allowed Dish and Tribune to reach an agreement that was fair to our subscribers and to Tribune.'” However, Dish asserts that Jackson and Liguori didn’t respond. “Having passed on an opportunity to get all the facts and having issued a press release after that meeting was scheduled to occur, we are skeptical that Rev. Jackson is truly interested in finding a fair deal for DISH consumers,” states the company.

It also appears tensions appeared between Dish and Tribune originally because of Dish feeling like WGN America ran an ad that was against Dish. Dish has now filed suit against Tribune Broadcasting, the branch of Tribune that’s directly over WGN America, stating a breach of contract as the reason. According to the suit (as reported by The Hollywood Reporter), Dish claims that WGN America aired commercials that “cast DISH in an extremely negative light…that Dish has not acted in good faith, that it’s performance and services are the worst in the indutry, and even that DISH is a ‘disgusting’ company.”

From an outsider’s perspective, this all seems childish. And frankly, this childish stuff is robbing too many people of the lessons Underground can teach.

Maryland Senator Catherine Pugh reflected this sentiment in her article for The Huffington Post, “Dish Network and WGN America’s Underground,” writing:

“Shows like ‘Underground’ have value far beyond the ratings and advertising revenue they generate for the companies that produce, air and distribute them. Make no mistake, however, “Underground” is very, very popular–often the No. 1 show on cable Wednesday nights.”

Underground shouldn’t be caught in the middle of this money-laden fracas. Let WGN America stay on the air, Dish Network! Let its fans see it unencumbered.

Here’s Jackson’s statement in full:

Washington, D.C., June 24, 2016 – This week, Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. sent a letter to DISH Chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen, firmly supporting Tribune Broadcasting’s request to put its stations and WGN America back on the air by reaching a fair-market deal between the two companies. Reverend Jackson underscored that “WGN America is deeply committed to sharing positive portrayals of African Americans” as illustrated by their critically acclaimed hit series “Underground,” which tells the unflinching story of some of America’s most heroic freedom fighters—the slaves who risked their lives to reach freedom and claim their civil rights.

In the letter, Reverend Jackson states that DISH has undervalued the series’ record-setting ratings and African American viewers in much the same way “the old south counted African Americans as three-fifths of a man.”

DISH’s decision to force WGN America off its distribution system is especially troubling since high-quality programs like “Underground”—in which the African-American characters are heroic, their struggle inspirational, and the audience diverse—don’t make it to air very often. When they do, they should be celebrated, not put at risk as DISH has recklessly done.

Reverend Jackson is looking forward to discussing this issue in greater detail with Mr. Ergen.