Tribune announced Monday that Cherniss, who also ran the channel’s production entity Tribune Studios, will step down at the end of the month. Gavin Harvey, a veteran cable executive involved in such networks as E!, FX and Fuse has been tapped to replace Cherniss.
Cherniss took over WGN America in March 2013 and led an effort to transform the channel from a repository of broadcast network repeats to a destination for original series. But WGN America’s strategy is likely to change once Sinclair Broadcast Group completes its acquisition of the cable network’s parent company Tribune Media.
The original programming push began with supernatural series “Salem,” launched in 2014, and “Manhattan,” a period drama about nuclear scientists in Los Alamos, N.M., which won critical kudos. In 2016, the network launched the slavery drama “Underground” and “Outsiders,” an adventure series set in Appalachia. All four series have been canceled.
Any makeover of a cable channel that involves original series can take years — and a heavy financial investment — to fully execute. When Sinclair announced that it was acquiring Tribune for $3.9 billion, company executives indicated that they planned to pursue a more cost-efficient way to program WGN America.
There has been chatter in the TV industry that Sinclair has designs to convert WGN America into a politically right-wing news service that would compete with Fox News Channel. But cable and satellite carriage agreements for cable channels are highly restrictive when it comes to format changes.
Cherniss joined WGN America after a stint at FX, where he oversaw the development of original programming.
Tribune Media, based in Chicago, is the former parent company of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. The two newspapers, along with Tribune’s other publishing properties, were spun off into a new company — now named Tronc Inc. — in 2014.