Sometimes a business dispute is about more than a business dispute. Sometimes a business dispute is a statement about our culture. Right now, the DISH network has taken the cable network WGN America off the air in a fight over whether DISH will support that network's programming. No one likes these fights the companies that make TV content and the companies that distribute that content. But Dish's decision to force WGN America off its system is deeply troubling. That's because WGN America is the home of "Underground," a revolutionary new show about the Underground Railroad. (If you missed it the first time around, there's an "Underground" marathon scheduled for July 2.)
Underground is about a generation of heroic American freedom fighters--the slaves who ran towards freedom to claim their civil rights. It celebrates that heroism, no less than other dramas have celebrated the greatest generation that landed on the beaches of Normandy or the astronauts that liberated themselves from the bounds of gravity.
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.
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.
But the real and lasting value of "Underground" can be found in its significance to the African American community and in the positive message it sends in the era of "Black Lives Matter," when racial tension is high. "Underground" helps break down barriers, ease divisions, and start conversations; it promotes understanding, dialogue and, above all, hope.
In short, a show like "Underground" matters, and WGN America matters because of it.
How can Dish be blind to all that, claiming that this programming has little or no value. That's an insult to this story and an insult to this audience. This country needs better from them.