WGN news loses national platform

Mark Suppelsa, Dan Roan, Tom Skilling and Micah Materre

Mark Suppelsa, Dan Roan, Tom Skilling and Micah Materre

Tom Skilling still may be America’s weatherman, but his unparalleled nightly forecasts aren’t reaching viewers from coast to coast anymore.

After more than 35 years as a staple of Tribune Broadcasting’s cable superstation, WGN-Channel 9’s 9 p.m. newscast has been dropped from the nightly schedule of WGN America.

WGN AmericaThe hourlong newscast, anchored by Mark Suppelsa and Micah Materre with chief meteorologist Skilling and sportscaster Dan Roan, continues to air locally on the company’s Chicago flagship station. But as of this week, it’s no longer carried on the cable channel seen in 75 million homes nationwide.

WGN America has replaced “WGN News at Nine” with episodes of “Rules of Engagement,” as part of the channel’s effort to relaunch itself as a bigger player in the cable universe.

“We’re transitioning from a network with regional roots to one with a true national identity, driven by provocative, brand-defining programming of the highest quality,” Matt Cherniss, president and general manager of WGN America, said in a statement. “With this relaunch and our expanded portfolio of original content, we expect to significantly strengthen our position as a destination for viewers.”

Matt Cherniss

Matt Cherniss

Starting in April, WGN America will air its first original scripted drama series, “Salem,” set during the infamous 17th century witch trials in Massachusetts. In July, the network will premiere its second original series, “Manhattan,” dramatizing the race to build the first atomic bomb (known as the Manhattan Project) in Los Alamos, N.M.

“We want our series to transport the audience to worlds that they have never experienced and tell big, operatic stories that entice and entertain,” Cherniss said.

Sources said Cherniss expects very little negative reaction to his decision to drop the 9 p.m. newscast, a move he was eager to make with months to go before the rollout of original programming. “There wasn’t much support for keeping it there,” an insider said.

Tribune Co. CEO Peter Liguori hired Cherniss, a former production executive at Warner Bros., last April to rebrand and revitalize WGN America and run the newly formed Tribune Studios in Los Angeles. The two previously worked together at FX and Fox Broadcasting.

The only news carried on WGN America is the 4 a.m. hour of “WGN Morning News” and the noon hour of “WGN Midday News.” The station produces a total of 54 hours of local news each week.

Thursday morning update: A spokesperson for WGN America said: “Chicago’s very own WGN News has many loyal fans and we are committed to continue making these news programs available to our viewers. In recent months, WGN America has been evolving its programming direction to best serve the interests of our national audience. ‘WGN News at Nine’ continues to be available nationally at WGNTV.com, where all WGN Chicago newscasts are streamed live. Further, an hour of Chicago’s very own ‘WGN Morning News’ has been added to the WGNA schedule for viewers to enjoy weekdays, and ‘WGN Midday News’ will continue to air as scheduled.”