|Launched||November 9, 1978|
|Network||The WB (1995–1999)|
|DirecTV (U.S.)||307 (HD/SD)|
|Dish Network||239 (HD/SD)|
WGN America is an American basic cable and satellite television channel that is owned by Tribune Broadcasting. The channel is one of several flagship properties owned by Chicago-based corporate parent Tribune Media, which also owns the channel's former parent television station during its existence as a superstation, WGN-TV (channel 9), regional cable news channel Chicagoland Television (CLTV) and radio station WGN (720 AM). The channel borrows its name from the "World's Greatest Newspaper" slogan of its corporate parent's former flagship newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, which was applied beforehand as the callsign of Tribune's Chicago television and radio stations.
WGN America carries a variety of programs consisting mainly of recent and classic off-network sitcoms, drama series and feature films, along with first-run original television series produced exclusively for the channel. Despite retaining the "WGN" name that it borrowed from its former parent station, since December 15, 2014, it no longer carries any local, syndicated or sports programming that airs in the Chicago market on WGN-TV. Conversely, WGN-TV does not carry WGN America's original series, outside of any special presentations of a program's series premiere (such as with the July 2014 premiere of Manhattan, which aired on WGN-TV and several other Tribune-owned stations on the night of its debut on WGN America).
Until December 31, 2015, WGN America broadcast on an Eastern Time schedule (with programs shown at earlier or later times depending on the location). As such, promos for WGN America programs referenced airtimes for both the Eastern and Pacific time zones (for example, America's Funniest Home Videos is promoted as airing at "6 p.m. East/3 p.m. West", a scheduling reference format used in promotions beginning in 2008, instead of referring to both zones as "Eastern" and "Pacific"). WGN America launched a Pacific Time Zone feed on January 1, 2016, an addition made as part of Tribune Broadcasting's renewal of the channel's carriage agreement with AT&T on October 26, 2015, which expanded its distribution by five million additional subscribers through the two pay television providers that carried the East Coast feed initially, AT&T U-verse and DirecTV.
WGN America is available in the United States on most cable providers, as well as on DirecTV, Dish Network, AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS. However, it continues not to be available on cable in portions of the western United States and much of the New England region of the northeastern United States. Moreover, some cable providers in select markets where Tribune Broadcasting owns a television station do not carry WGN America on analog or digital cable. In particular, the channel was not available in portions of the New York City metropolitan area until January 15, 2016, when Cablevision started carrying the network as part of an overall deal with Tribune Media that also included its purchase of Tribune's 2.8% ownership interest in Newsday Holdings.
In the Chicago metropolitan area, WGN America is not available over-the-air as a digital subchannel of WGN-TV. The channel is available within the Chicago market via the area's three major cable providers (Comcast Xfinity, RCN and WOW!), AT&T U-verse and DirecTV, in addition to the WGN-TV broadcast signal. Prior to its conversion into a basic cable channel in December 2014, those living in the market could only receive WGN America on the latter two satellite providers.
WGN America was previously carried in Canada on most cable and satellite providers; however, its distribution in that country was reduced significantly on January 17, 2007, when Shaw Broadcast Services – the main supplier of WGN in Canada – replaced the superstation feed with the WGN-TV Chicago broadcast signal. The decision to switch to the Chicago area feed is believed to have been made in order to avoid paying fees that are required to carry the then WGN superstation feed. Although satellite provider Star Choice (now Shaw Direct) and most Canadian cable systems that had been carrying WGN America began receiving WGN-TV/Chicago from that point forward (satellite provider Bell TV had been carrying the Chicago area signal for several years), select cable providers continued to carry the WGN national feed in lieu of or – as was the case with providers such as MTS TV and Cogeco Cable – in tandem with WGN-TV Chicago, resulting in the duplication of CW network and many syndicated programs that are available within the country on other broadcast and specialty channels (such as fellow superstations KTLA and WSBK-TV).
While the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) had approved the Chicago station's broadcast signal and its national cable feed for carriage on any domestic multichannel video programming distributor (including cable, satellite, IPTV and MMDS providers), the conversion of WGN America from a superstation into a conventional cable channel and its resulting programming separation from WGN-TV led Tribune Broadcasting to announce on December 15, 2014 that it would terminate all Canadian distribution rights for WGN America, effective January 1, 2015, likely due to genre protection rules then enforced by the CRTC that prohibited domestic or foreign cable channels from maintaining a general entertainment programming format. However, most cable and satellite providers across Canada – including some that lost access to WGN America – continue to receive WGN-TV (which, in addition to being available to subscribers of premium channels such as The Movie Network and Super Channel, is also carried in Canada as part of the NHL Centre Ice sports package, primarily for simulcasts of Chicago Blackhawks games), as the station is still authorized for domestic distribution as a superstation.
As a superstation
WGN-TV goes national
On November 9, 1978, United Video Satellite Group uplinked the signal of Chicago independent station WGN-TV (channel 9) to the Satcom-3 satellite for distribution to cable and satellite subscribers throughout the United States. For about eleven years afterward, the national WGN-TV signal carried the same programming schedule as that seen in the Chicago area; the national feed also used the same on-air branding as the Chicago area signal (which was referred to on-air at the time as either "Channel 9" or "WGN Channel 9") until 1997, when it became known as simply "WGN" outside Chicago (although it retained the varied forms of the WGN logo wordmark until 2008). When United Video launched Prevue Guide (now the entertainment-based Pop) in the late 1980s, it utilized WGN's audio subcarrier channel – which was unheard by viewers – to transmit programming schedules in a 2400 bit/s data stream to local cable providers.
On May 18, 1988, the Federal Communications Commission passed the Syndication Exclusivity Rules (or "SyndEx") into law; the regulations required cable providers to black out syndicated programs shown on any out-of-market television stations that the provider carried, when a station within a television market obtains the exclusive rights to broadcast that particular program. In response, a separate national feed of WGN-TV was launched on January 1, 1990 to avoid any potential blackouts, save for some sports programming (the feed was originally similar in structure to the now-defunct WWOR EMI Service, a superstation feed of Secaucus, New Jersey-based WWOR-TV that launched seven months after WGN-TV achieved superstation status, only with fewer programming blackouts). By the early 1990s, WGN began to increase its national coverage when many cable systems began to swap out WWOR and its New York City area rival (and sister station to WGN-TV) WPIX for the WGN superstation feed; its distribution expanded further as it gradually gained carriage on direct broadcast satellite via DirecTV, Dish Network and Primestar during that decade.
On December 3, 1993, Tribune Broadcasting signed an affiliation agreement with WGN-TV/Chicago to become a charter affiliate of The WB Television Network, a joint venture between the Warner Bros. Television unit of Time Warner, the Tribune Company and original network president Jamie Kellner (the latter two partners held minority ownership stakes in the network); this made the station an affiliate of a broadcast network for the first time since the August 1956 shutdown of the DuMont Television Network (WGN-TV had been a primary CBS/secondary DuMont affiliate from its sign-on on April 6, 1948, before becoming exclusively affiliated with DuMont after CBS moved to WBKB-TV (channel 4, now WBBM-TV on channel 2) in 1953). Through the agreement and Tribune's ownership interest in The WB – which resulted in most of the company's independent stations becoming charter affiliates of the network – The WB allowed the WGN superstation feed to nationally distribute its prime time (and when it was added by The WB in September 1995, children's) programming, in order to make the network available to areas of the United States that did not initially have a local affiliate. The WB was the second network to make its programming available directly to pay television providers to designated "white areas" without broadcast affiliate clearances; Fox had earlier launched Foxnet, a cable channel created specifically for the same impetus behind the WGN-WB agreement, which operated from June 1991 to September 2006.
The superstation feed became a de facto national WB affiliate upon the network's January 11, 1995 launch, giving The WB an early advantage over the United Paramount Network (UPN), which declined to allow WWOR to carry its programming to areas without an affiliate. While The WB's programming was initially split between two stations in the Chicago market, WGN-TV (which aired the network's prime time programming), and WCIU-TV (channel 26) (which ran Kids' WB children's programming until it moved to WGN-TV in September 2004), The WB's entire programming schedule was carried by the WGN superstation feed. In addition, as The WB only carried programming on Sundays when it launched and would not expand its prime time schedule to six nights a week until September 1999, the superstation feed – as with most over-the-air WB affiliates during the network's early years – filled the 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time slot on nights without WB network programming with either sports telecasts from WGN-TV that were cleared for national broadcast (which as The WB expanded its programming to other nights over a four-year period beginning with the launch of its Wednesday lineup in September 1995, would result in pre-emptions of the network's programs until later in the week) or movies.
In December 1996, not long after WGN-TV temporarily lost rights to broadcast Chicago Bulls basketball games due to a lawsuit between the station and the National Basketball Association, the WGN superstation feed was dropped from cable systems operated by Tele-Communications, Inc. in several U.S. cities outside the Chicago area. The move was partly made in order to make room for additional cable networks due to limited space (cable providers around the country at this time were regularly making upgrades to their headend infrastructures to allow the carriage of additional channels, culminating in the adoption of digital cable in the latter part of the decade). TCI's removal of WGN had a minor complication for The WB as even though the network had been slowly adding stations to its roster at the time, it still did not have local affiliates in many medium-sized and smaller markets. Outcry from some TCI subscribers over the decision to drop WGN resulted in the cable provider later backing off plans to drop the superstation feed in five Midwestern states. In 1997, TCI and Tribune had discussed a proposal to sell a 50% ownership stake in the WGN superstation feed to TCI and convert it into a basic cable channel (similar to what Atlanta superstation WTBS did that same year, as well as Tribune's conversion of WGN America into a basic service that began in 2014); this ultimately did not go forward.
On October 7, 1999, WGN stopped carrying The WB's programming on its superstation feed at the network's request, on mutual grounds between Time Warner and Tribune that The WB had increased its national broadcast coverage (through affiliation agreements signed with local broadcast stations after its launch and the debut of a cable-only affiliate group in markets where no over-the-air affiliate was present in September of the previous year) to the point that discontinuing the network's carriage on the superstation feed was deemed necessary. Kids' WB programming on weekday mornings and afternoons and on Saturday mornings was replaced with syndicated series, while feature films replaced The WB's prime time programs, resulting in the superstation's schedule more so resembling an independent station than a general entertainment cable network due to the presence of local programming from WGN-TV.
The removal of WB programming from the superstation feed reduced The WB's potential household audience by 10 million homes, and was cited as the reason behind the network's ratings declines during the 1999–2000 television season (The WB fell to sixth place in the Nielsen ratings that season, behind UPN), as the network lost an estimated 19% of its household audience through the decision. For similar reasons to those that necessitated the decision to remove WB programming from the channel, WGN America also did not carry any programming from The CW when WGN-TV became its charter affiliate for the Chicago market at that network's launch in September 2006, due to the fact that The CW is widely available throughout the United States via over-the-air broadcast stations and affiliations with digital subchannels and local cable outlets (including through The CW Plus in smaller markets) when that network launched in September 2006.
In September 2001, the superstation feed was rebranded as WGN Superstation, before undergoing another name change as Superstation WGN in November 2002, coinciding with the introduction of WGN-TV Chicago's current logo (to which the superstation feed used a stylized version that added an ovular die-cut "S" emblem to represent its superstation status, alongside the text logo that included WGN-TV's wordmark).
Change to WGN America
On May 24, 2008, Superstation WGN changed its name to WGN America (initially, the use of the new name was limited to on-air promotions, as the Superstation WGN channel IDs remained in place). The new WGN America name and logo went into full-time use on May 26, 2008. The new logo was also the first used by the superstation feed not to incorporate WGN-TV's on-air branding in some capacity; instead featuring an illustration of a woman's eyes alongside the new slogan "TV You Can't Ignore".
The channel began to slowly revamp its programming lineup, starting with the introduction of the weekly classic sitcom block "Outta Sight Retro Night" (which ran from August 2007 to September 5, 2010, airing on Sunday evenings from 5:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Eastern Time, with a breakaway at 10:00 p.m. Eastern for the channel's simulcasts of WGN News at Nine and Instant Replay). The block featured series such as WKRP in Cincinnati, Newhart, ALF, Barney Miller and The Honeymooners. Some of these programs had previously aired on WGN prior to implementation of the SyndEx rules, or even after the rules went into effect on the Chicago signal only, and in some cases, the superstation feed as well. (Some of the shows aired as part of the block have also since aired on Antenna TV, a classic television-focused broadcast network that Tribune launched on January 1, 2011, four months after WGN America discontinued "Outta Sight Retro Night"). A few shows were dropped from the channel, such as former WGN staples U.S. Farm Report and Soul Train, primarily due to the dissolution of Tribune's television production and distribution unit. In late July 2008, the network's logo bug was revised with the eyes element of the logo morphing into the "WGN America" text. The eyes remained a part of the general logo in all other uses until January 2009, when they were deemphasized in favor of using the channel's wordmark text as the primary logo.
In the fall of 2008, then-Tribune chairman/CEO Sam Zell and co-CEO Randy Michaels stated to the media during a nationwide tour promoting the Tribune properties that the company was interested in producing a late night talk show hosted by comedian Jay Leno, following the end of his initial run as host of NBC's The Tonight Show that year, by launching it on Tribune's television stations and using WGN America to broadcast the show nationally. However, in December 2008, NBC agreed to a deal to let Leno host a weeknight primetime talk show at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time called The Jay Leno Show (which was cancelled in February 2010, due to low ratings, with Leno returning as host of Tonight one month later).
In April 2009, WGN America underwent another rebrand, with a new retro-style logo (which was updated on July 1, 2010 to a more minimal graphic style), a new five-note sounder (which was also used on WGN radio in Chicago), new graphics, a new slogan ("Everywhere America Calls Home"), and the introduction of some original programming. The changes were made in order to increase its cable carriage outside the channel's traditional coverage area and position itself as a general entertainment network that programs to the entire nation, not just Chicago and the Midwest.
Conversion to basic cable
With ownership and management changes occurring at the Tribune Company as it exited protracted Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization proceedings in December 2012 (which led to the August 2014 spin-off of its publishing division to focus on the company's broadcasting, digital media and real estate units), Tribune announced plans to convert WGN America from a superstation into a conventional cable network, similar to TBS's transition to a basic cable channel in the 1990s. Ironically, it was the national TBS cable channel's separation from its parent Atlanta station WTBS (channel 17, which became WPCH-TV) in October 2007 that resulted in WGN America becoming the last remaining national superstation in the U.S. to be distributed through both cable and satellite television.
WGN America was also one of four superstations that were owned by Tribune, alongside CW affiliates KTLA/Los Angeles, KWGN-TV/Denver and WPIX/New York City, the latter three of which were available on cable in their respective regions of the United States, and on Dish Network nationally for those who subscribed to the provider's a la carte superstations tier prior to its decision to halt its sale to new subscribers in September 2013; KTLA and WPIX are also available on Canadian cable and satellite providers via authorization by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as WGN-TV is and remains to this day due to providers in that country having previously substituted the national channel with the WGN-TV Chicago signal (although KWGN-TV is also authorized by the CRTC for carriage in Canada, that station is not carried on any pay television providers within that country).
Plans called for WGN America to incorporate scripted original programming, to migrate from "limited basic" (or "lifeline") programming tiers (where it is carried alongside local broadcast stations and public, educational, and government access channels) to the "expanded basic" tiers of cable providers, and to adopt a retransmission consent model in future carriage agreements in which Tribune would receive revenue for the network's carriage (changing its existing model in which pay television providers carrying WGN America make royalty payments to the United States Copyright Office under compulsory license provisions for retransmitting out-of-market stations). Matt Cherniss was appointed as the first president and general manager of WGN America and Tribune Studios, a newly formed production unit that would produce some of the network's original content, on March 19, 2013.
The network's logo was overhauled again in January 2014, in advance of the launch of its first original scripted programs, to a simpler and neutral variant removing the flourishes of the Zell/Michaels era of Tribune ownership, and focusing more on the "WGN" call letters for branding; the new imaging was unveiled on December 19, 2013, as part of a promotional trailer for its first scripted drama series, Salem. Salem and WGN America saw a major promotional push which began with Fox's broadcast of Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2, where local advertising time on Tribune Broadcasting's fifteen Fox affiliates (including stations in Seattle and Denver, the two cities whose local NFL teams played in the game) was used to air an extended promotional ad for Salem, followed by further promotion on Tribune's other local television stations in the lead-up to the show's April 20 premiere.
In a May 2014 symposium at the MoffattNathanson Media & Communications Summit, Tribune Company president and CEO Peter Liguori (a former Fox and Discovery Communications executive who joined Tribune in December 2012) stated that with its new programming strategy, about 50% of U.S. cable providers would begin offering WGN America as a conventional cable channel by the end of 2014, with all cable providers offering it as a basic cable service by around 2016. Most notably, on December 15, 2014, Tribune reached a carriage agreement with Comcast Xfinity that saw WGN America move from limited to expanded basic tiers on its systems in four markets (Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Seattle) the following day on December 16, while also making it available on cable in the Chicago market for the first time on the provider's systems in that area.
On June 12, 2016, Dish Network removed Tribune Broadcasting's 43 television stations and WGN America from its lineup at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time that evening, after the two companies were unable to reconcile terms on renewing their existing carriage contract. WGN America's channel slot was substituted by a duplicate feed of TNT during the blackout (the company's broadcast television stations, such as former parent station WGN-TV, were replaced with a repeating recorded video message prepared by Dish Network). After having its television properties off the satellite provider for 1½ months, Tribune reached a deal to return the networks to Dish Network on September 3, with the channels being put back on Dish hours after the announcement.
Proposed Tribune Media merger with Sinclair Broadcast Group
On May 8, 2017, Sinclair Broadcast Group officially announced its intent to purchase Tribune Media in a cash-and-stock deal valuing the company at $3.9 billion, along with the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt held by Tribune. Following the announcement of the purchase, Sinclair CEO Christopher Ripley disclosed plans to reposition WGN America around acquired series and "cost-effective" original programs, in an effort to orient the network for "profitable growth". As a result, building on a shift away from scripted content undertaken by interim Tribune President/CEO Peter Kern (who replaced Liguori as company head in March 2017) beginning with the cancellation of the drama series Outsiders, Sinclair would de-emphasize high-end scripted series from WGN America's programming slate, with Ripley citing that the network's current original programming budget was unjustified based on the channel's ratings (while not among the top 25 highest-rated cable networks, WGN America's viewership had gradually increased since the introduction of original scripted series, posting its highest monthly ratings in March 2017, during which it total viewership averaged 446,000 viewers and viewership among adults ages 25 to 54 totaled at 157,000).
Ripley's statement immediately put into question the future of the slavery-era period drama Underground, which premiered on the network in March 2016 and ended its second season two days after the announcement of Tribune acquisition on May 10. Reports stated that Sony Pictures Television, which produces Underground, would seek other network and streaming partners to continue the program (with Hulu, which maintains a content deal with WGN America, being among the possible candidates); WGN would announce its decision to cancel the series on May 30.
The deal also drove speculation that Sinclair would utilize WGN America's wide national reach to launch a conservative-leaning cable news rival to Fox News Channel and Newsmax TV over WGN's existing transponder and channel space (such speculation had been floated for over a year, dating to its January 2016 purchase of Tennis Channel, citing the company's production of national must-run segments for its stations that have been cited as having a noticeable conservative slant since the implementation of the News Central format in the early 2000s, a major concern levied by Democratic Congress members and anti-consolidation media activist groups opposed to the deal). However, Variety reporter Cynthia Littleton noted that such a revamp may not be fiscally viable, as it would risk piling on additional debt on top of that which Sinclair had already accrued through the spate of station purchases it has made since the 2011 acquisition of Four Points Media Group (estimated at $3.268 billion as of March 31, 2017), and the debt it will assume through the Tribune deal.
Former professional wrestling executive Eric Bischoff spoke in favor of the Sinclair-Tribune deal during a Q&A session on his official Periscope account on March 14, 2018, feeling that Sinclair could utilize WGN America to expand the reach of Sinclair-owned Ring of Honor in a similar manner that Turner Broadcasting System utilized World Championship Wrestling and its predecessors including Jim Crockett Promotions and Georgia Championship Wrestling. A possible airing of Ring of Honor Wrestling would mark WGN America's first foray into professional wrestling since WWE Superstars left the network in 2011.
As of 2017, WGN America's programming slate relies primarily on a variety of reruns such as How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, Blue Bloods, M*A*S*H, Parks and Recreation, Law & Order, Elementary, Walker, Texas Ranger, In the Heat of the Night and Rules of Engagement. As is typical for cable networks, some of the shows airing on the channel are also available on other broadcast television stations throughout the United States; for much of its post-Syndex existence as a superstation, many of these programs were cleared by television syndication distributors for "full-signal" rights – therefore allowing them to air on WGN America as they do not fall under syndication exclusivity regulations (for example, although How I Met Your Mother is syndicated to other television stations nationwide, including WGN-TV/Chicago, it is allowed to air on WGN America due to its clearance by 20th Television for "full-signal" carriage). However, in 2013, WGN America began to acquire exclusive cable rights to programs eligible for syndication, such as Person of Interest, as part of its shift towards a conventional cable network.
Feature films on WGN America are also cleared for "full-signal" carriage, as the channel runs movies from film packages distributed for local broadcast syndication by Warner Bros. Television, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, 20th Television, Sony Pictures Television and other distributors. Movies formed much of the superstation's prime time schedule for much of its existence until the "Superstation WGN" branding era – though there have been exceptions: fewer prime time movies aired during the week during its four-year run as a cable-only affiliate of The WB from 1995 to 1999 as that network's programming expanded to additional nights, with films airing on a nightly basis again once WB programming was dropped (films were later removed from Sunday nights with the launch of the "Outta Sight Retro Night" block in 2007 and from Thursday nights between 2009 and 2010). WGN America then relegated its movie telecasts to Sunday afternoons and weekend late nights from September 18, 2010 until prime time films returned on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in May 2013.
Until 2012, the channel's morning and early afternoon schedule heavily relied on reruns of television series produced between the 1960s and the early 1990s. During the early 2000s, WGN America acquired sub-run syndication rights to series that had previously aired in their original broadcast runs during the channel's affiliation with The WB, including 7th Heaven, The Wayans Bros., Sister, Sister, and The Parent 'Hood. Between 2006 and 2009, WGN America ran teen- and preteen-oriented sitcoms during mid-afternoon timeslots such as Lizzie McGuire, Even Stevens and Sister, Sister, only for these shows to quickly be moved to overnight graveyard slots, when the show's target audiences are usually not awake, and then removed entirely shortly afterward. This was likely due to the restructuring of Tribune's television division and a distribution agreement with the Disney Channel that proved too expensive to maintain.
On August 21, 2008, WGN America announced a partnership with Indianapolis radio station WFBQ to carry the television broadcast of The Bob & Tom Show radio program – which was originally produced for Tribune's duopoly of Fox affiliate WXIN (channel 59) and CW affiliate WTTV (channel 4, now a CBS affiliate) in that market. The program debuted on WGN America on November 3, 2008, originally airing in a standard late night slot, before being moved to overnights until the television broadcast ended on September 13, 2010. On December 19, 2008, WGN America reached a deal with World Wrestling Entertainment to broadcast WWE Superstars as an hour-long weekly program, starting on April 16, 2009. The program was dropped from WGN America after the April 7, 2011 telecast (it was then available on WWE's subscription-based WWE Network until its cancellation in November 2016).
In April 2010, WGN America announced it would begin carrying Earl Pitts Uhmerikun, a television version of the radio commentary series created by Gary Burbank, which began airing that same month. Burbank had long maintained a close relationship with certain Tribune Company executives at that time, who approached him about bringing the segments to television. The commentary was aired in the form of a series of 90-second segments that aired on WGN America until November 2011, usually during simulcasts of WGN-TV newscasts.
As part of WGN America's restructuring, the channel began to develop original programming – some of which will be produced through Tribune Studios, a production and distribution unit formed in March 2013 to develop syndicated programs that will be seen primarily on Tribune Broadcasting's television properties (the subsidiary's predecessor, Tribune Entertainment, was a contributing supplier of syndicated programs to WGN America prior to the unit's 2007 shutdown). On June 4, 2013, WGN America placed a 13-episode order for its first original scripted program, the drama series Salem (which is based around the Salem witch trials), which premiered on April 20, 2014. The network debuted its first unscripted series, Wrestling with Death, on January 13, 2015.
WGN America had aired news programming from WGN-TV since the Chicago signal was uplinked to satellite in 1978, with syndicated programming having replaced them after the national channel became a conventional cable network. It originally aired John Drury and Newsnine, a traditional late-evening newscast which evolved into WGN-TV's current 9 p.m. program with its expansion to one hour in October 1980. From the implementation of SyndEx in 1990, syndicated programming substituted The Nine O'Clock News/WGN News at Nine on WGN America whenever sports events not cleared to air outside the Chicago market and/or (with the exception of a period from September 13, 2010 to May 2013, when it filled the prime time lineup with sitcom reruns) movies intended for broadcast only on the national channel were scheduled to run past 9 p.m. Central Time. WGN America removed the 9 p.m. news simulcast outright after the January 30, 2014 edition; its companion Sunday sports highlight program Instant Replay last aired nationally on January 26 (also dropped as a result, were certain specials produced by the WGN-TV news department and many of chief meteorologist Tom Skilling's weather specials, which typically aired following half-hour abbreviated editions of the newscast). Although Tribune Broadcasting CEO Matt Cherniss stated that he did not expect for the newscast's removal to cause any issues with viewers, disapproval of the move by some former Chicago residents living elsewhere in the United States resulted in the creation of a Facebook page asking for the broadcast to be returned to WGN America's schedule, citing concerns about a perceived inability to stay updated on news from the Chicago area.
The WGN Midday News, which originated as the hour-long newscast Newscope in 1984, also saw occasional – albeit, far rarer – pre-emptions due to Cubs or White Sox baseball games scheduled for broadcast on WGN-TV/WGN America at 1 p.m. Eastern Time; only the 12 p.m. hour of the program aired nationally (despite gradually expanding to include an 11 a.m. hour locally in October 2009) before it was dropped from WGN America on December 13, 2014. The WGN Morning News aired nationally from its debut in September 1994 until September 1996 and again starting on February 3, 2014, at which point, only the 4 a.m. (Central Time) hour was simulcast. SyndEx rules on paid segments featured within the newscast (to which WGN-TV's sales department negotiates the appearance and the terms, under which it would be charged a national rate if the segments aired outside the Chicago market) reportedly resulted in the initial removal of the program and prohibited the last five hours (from 5 to 10 a.m. Central Time) from airing outside Chicago when the morning news simulcast returned. Beginning on December 15, 2014, WGN America added the 5 a.m. CT hour, but restricted its broadcast in some markets with paid programming as an alternate substitute.
WGN America had also broadcast Nightbeat, an overnight news program that ran until 1983, as well as WGN-TV's previous weekend morning news efforts during the 1990s, both of which were dropped by the superstation feed as a result of those newscasts' cancellations: a Saturday edition that ran from 1992 to 1998 and a Sunday edition that ran from 1992 to 1994. For undetermined reasons, WGN America never cleared other local newscasts that WGN-TV has added from September 2008 until the national channel's conversion to a conventional cable channel: its weekday 4 p.m. and weeknight 5 p.m. newscasts (the former of which debuted in September 2014, while the latter launched in September 2008 as a 5:30 p.m. newscast and was expanded to weekends in July 2014), and the current incarnation of its weekend morning newscasts (which launched in October 2010). WGN-TV anchors referenced the WGN America simulcast at the beginning of each nationally televised newscast beginning in 2008 (until the 9 p.m. newscast was dropped, this excluded weekend evenings and the various predetermined pre-emptions of the newscast outside Chicago).
Other WGN-TV programming
Aside from programming shared by both the local and national superstation feeds that were cleared for "full-signal" carriage, other local programs shared by both feeds until WGN America restructured as a conventional cable network in December 2014 (in addition to newscasts), included the bi-weekly Saturday morning local public affairs programs Adelante, Chicago and People to People. WGN America also aired other Chicago-based programs produced by WGN's local programming department via simulcast or on a delayed basis, such as local parades, event coverage and retrospective shows on WGN-TV's past (including the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade and the special Bozo, Gar and Ray: WGN TV Classics). WGN-TV/Chicago and the national superstation feed initially maintained similar programming schedules in the years after the SyndEx rules became law, running much of the same programs with limited substitutions outside Chicago – though from the early 2000s onward (particularly since the rebrand to WGN America), WGN-TV/Chicago and the national channel shared substantially fewer common programs between the two feeds.
From 1978 to 1987 and again from 1994 to 2014, WGN America aired the Illinois Lottery's daily drawings (making it the only U.S. state lottery whose drawings, including multi-jurisdictional games, were televised nationally). The midday and evening drawings were shown daily during news simulcasts; however, if newscasts aired in the drawings' designated time periods were pre-empted or were not provided by both WGN-TV and WGN America during the scheduled draw times, the winning numbers were instead shown as either a static full-screen or lower-third graphic. WGN America effectively acted as the default drawing broadcaster for Mega Millions (beginning with its 1998 inception as The Big Game) and Powerball (beginning when Illinois became a participant in 2011) in areas of lottery-participating states where no local station televised the drawings (the Iowa Lottery used Illinois' lottery numbers for its own daily Pick 3 and Pick 4 games as a result of the channel's widespread distribution in that state until April 2014, coinciding with the end of WGN's national carriage of lottery drawings); both games were broadcast on their respective drawing nights (Tuesdays and Fridays for Mega Millions; Wednesdays and Saturdays for Powerball) at 10:59 p.m. Eastern Time, except during ongoing sports telecasts. The nighttime drawings (which are held at 9:22 p.m. Central Time) as well as Powerball and Mega Millions were dropped with the removal of the 9:00 p.m. news simulcast on January 31, 2014, with the midday drawings (held at 12:40 p.m. Central Time) following suit on December 15.
Through WGN-TV's longtime association as the MDA Love Network station for Chicago, WGN America had simulcast the annual MDA Show of Strength on Labor Day and the preceding Sunday night each September (having aired the telethon in its 21½-hour format from 1979 to 2010, the six-hour evening format used in 2011 and the three-hour primetime-only format used in 2012), including the locally produced segments featuring WGN-TV personalities; as a result, donations to the Chicago-based segments of the telethon also came from various other areas of the United States and Canada. The MDA moved the telethon from syndication to ABC beginning with the 2013 broadcast (lasting for only one more year before the MDA chose to end its annual telethon outright in March 2015), ending the WGN America simulcast and WGN-TV's rights to the telethon with the 2012 edition.
Beginning at its inception via WGN-TV's satellite uplinking for distribution to cable providers, WGN America carried most sporting events produced and aired by its now-former Chicago broadcast parent. Through 2014, the national channel aired all Chicago Cubs and White Sox Major League Baseball games, and about 20 to 30 Chicago Bulls NBA games televised by WGN-TV/Chicago. WGN-TV/Chicago had rights to carry additional Bulls games, as well as a number of Chicago Blackhawks NHL games; however, due to broadcast rights restrictions imposed respectively by the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, WGN America was not allowed to carry other games from the television station's Bulls schedule outside of those allowed to air outside the Chicago market, or any Blackhawks game that the local station carries (in the latter case due to the exclusive broadcast contracts with the NHL, such as its exclusive contract with Comcast/NBCUniversal that began in 2008). WGN America substituted games not cleared for national carriage with either movies or syndicated programming.
Certain related programs carried locally, such as the Blackhawks' victory parade following the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs and a half-hour special paying tribute to the late Cubs player and broadcaster Ron Santo in 2011, have also not been shown on WGN America, though a few Tribune and Local TV-owned partner stations aired the funeral on their digital subchannels and the Blackhawks' victory parade was shown on the NHL Network using the WGN-TV feed.
As a side effect of Tribune's conversion of WGN America into a general entertainment cable channel, the network phased out its carriage of WGN-TV's sports telecasts, with Tribune president/CEO Peter Liguori citing limited viewership and advertising revenue generated from the sports broadcasts relative to its expense (the Cubs package cost five times as much for rights fees alone as the revenue it brought in).
The final WGN Sports-produced game telecast to air on WGN America was a contest between the Bulls and the Golden State Warriors, from Chicago's United Center on December 6, 2014. WGN America later aired the Cubs' victory parade after the 2016 World Series on November 4 of that year.
National events such as WGN Sports coverage of the Arlington Million and Tribune's KTLA coverage of the Los Angeles Marathon (except in Los Angeles) are carried on WGN America, as they are national sporting events.
WGN America HD
WGN America HD is a high definition simulcast feed of WGN America, which broadcasts programming available in HD in the 1080i picture format. Original programming and select acquired programs (such as Elementary, How I Met Your Mother and Law & Order: Criminal Intent) are currently broadcast in high definition on the feed. The HD feed is available regionally through Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Xfinity by Comcast, AT&T U-verse, Verizon FiOS and other select cable providers, and nationally through satellite provider DirecTV.
In relation to WGN America's prior history as a cable affiliate of The WB, the following articles discuss similar cable-only affiliates of broadcast television networks:
- The WB 100+ Station Group – a station group created by The WB in September 1998, made up of mostly locally managed cable-only television outlets in small and mid-sized U.S. markets that did not have an over-the-air affiliate, which superseded WGN America's de facto WB affiliate status for these areas
- The CW Plus – successor of The WB 100+; a station group made up primarily of cable-only outlets that formerly served as affiliates of The WB 100+ Station Group and digital multicast channels
- Foxnet – a similar cable-only network for markets without a Fox affiliate, that operated from 1991 to 2006
- CTV Two Alberta – a cable-only affiliate of CTV Two in the Canadian province of Alberta
- CTV Two Atlantic – a similar cable-only affiliate of CTV Two in Atlantic Canada
- City Saskatchewan – a similar cable-only affiliate of the City television network in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan
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