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WGN America is moving forward with its Akiva Goldsman-produced drama Underground, giving the Underground Railroad project a 10-episode straight-to-series order with Christopher Meloni, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge and Jessica De Gouw set to star. The pickup comes weeks after NBC at TCA announced Freedom Run, an eight-hour miniseries set against the background of the underground railroad, which was put on a fast track with Stevie Wonder executive producing and writing the score for a Broadway musical based on the mini.
Underground, originally announced by WGNA in August, also is expected to have a top music name involved. I hear Kanye West is in talks for a role on the music side of the series.
Underground, from Sony Pictures TV and Tribune Studios, follows a group of slaves who plan a daring escape from a Georgia plantation to cross 600 miles to freedom, aided along the way by a secret abolitionist couple running a station on the Underground Railroad, as they evade those tasked with bringing them back, dead or alive.
Smollett-Bell (Friday Night Lights) plays Rosalee, a shy house slave with a powerful inner strength and courage; Aldis Hodge (Turn) is Noah, a brave and clever slave on the plantation with dreams of freedom and a dangerous plan to escape; Law & Order: SVU alum Meloni is August, a secretive mercenary who walks a tightrope between survival and morality; De Gouw is Elizabeth, a socialite who shares her husband’s abolitionist ideals.
The series was created and written by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski (Heroes), who also serve as executive producers with Goldsman from Weed Road Pictures, along with Tory Tunnell and Joby Harold from Safehouse Pictures. Anthony Hemingway (Treme) is set to direct the series’ first two episodes. Production is set to begin this spring for a 2016 premiere.
Underground is WGN America’s fifth straight-to-series order to date. The first two, Salem and Manhattan, already have been picked up for Season 2. Also starting production this spring is new drama Outsiders, also from Sony TV and Tribune Studios. Ten Commandments, co-produced by The Weinstein Company, is in pre-production.
Meloni, repped by Gersh and Industry Entertainment, is filming Wet Hot American Summer for Netflix. Hodge is repped by Paradigm. Smollett-Bell is repped by ICM Partners, Storefront and Darrell Miller at Fox Rothschild.