The reign of Empire on Fox is coming to an end next year.
Just two weeks after the Charlie Collier-run Fox Entertainment renewed Lee Daniels and Danny Strong’s hip hop drama for a sixth season and showed controversy ladened Jussie Smollett towards the exit door, it was announced today on Fox’s Upfront call that the self described “groundbreaking cultural phenomenon” of Empire will be canceled once Season 6 s done.
“We are turning the final season into a large TV event, we are trying to go out guns a blazing,” Collier proclaimed on the call of Empire‘s 20-episode last round “You allow fans to lean in and have the ending they deserve,” the CEO added.
Questioned about the possibility that the legally challenged Smollett could return for the final season, Collier dodged and replied with language reminiscent of last month’s press release. “There’s an option to have Jussie in the series but we have no plans for that,” he said, noting that the writers’ room for Season 6 hasn’t even been opened yet.
Dropped less than a week after the fifth season of Empire wrapped up, with its Casablanca-ish finale, Monday’s news also shifts the Chicago filmed series back to its original Tuesday slot at 9 PM. That’s a primetime team-up with an also moved The Resident for the night for its third season.
The shift to Tuesdays also puts the already ratings bedeviled Empire right up against NBC’s heavy hitter This Is Us.
On the up side for fans of the Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard-led series, planning for the resetting sixth season of Empire is still very much in the early stages, as the Fox Entertainment boss essentially said today and showrunner Brett Mahoney told me on May 8, which leaves plenty of time to craft an proper conclusion.
The axing of Empire follows the cancelling of co-creator Daniels’ 20th Century Fox TV produced Star on May 10 after three seasons, which Collier today called “difficult.” The Strong EP’d and also Disney-owned TCFTV produced midseason replacement legal drama Proven Innocent was pink slipped by Fox the network after one season on May 11.
Caught between lower than expected ratings and the costs of doing business with a former corporate sibling, the Star and Proven Innocent cancellations, painful as they were for those concerned, were pretty straightforward.
On the other hand, amidst other long in the tooth issues, Empire was pummeled this year by new ratings lows and the every spiraling controversy over the January 29 presumed hate crime that the Jamal Lyon portraying Smollett is now alleged by Chicago Police and prosecutors to have perpetrated against himself.
Things were still looking good several weeks ago for a longer run when options for key cast like the once and now once again music moguls the Lyon clan of matriarch Cookie (Henson) patriarch Lucious , (Howard), on-screen sons Bryshere Y. Gray, and Trai Byers, along with Gabourey Sidibe and Nicole Ari Parker were sewed up last month for another season, I hear.
Having portrayed openly gay middle son Jamal Lyon on the series from its early 2015 debut, Fox Entertainment and now Disney-owned 20th Century Fox TV “negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for Season 6.”
However, with the Smollett character already written out of the last two episodes of Season 5 months ago as the situation around him became more convoluted and the Chicago police investigation deepened, the network and the studio added on April 30 that “at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to Empire.”
Now, there are no more plans for Empire to return to Fox passed its next upcoming cycle. A fact that would have seemed absurd just a few years ago.
In its first and second seasons, the blockbuster drew in big number from almost every facet of the American television viewing public. In fact, breaking the status quo of steady decline, for a while Empire was on a winning trajectory of growing almost every week in the ratings to new highs.
While currently Fox’s second best performing drama after 9-1-1, the heights of those early days have long since passed. Yet, today’s cancellation comes as a bit of a surprise after the March 20 promotional spotlight the so-called “New Fox” put on the show as a crown jewel once the $71.3 billion acquisition by Disney went through, the possibility has been of Empire has been there for a while.
Ultimately, having scored more seasons than most in today’s Peak TV era, Empire fell prey to forces primarily outside of its own small screen borders.
The show was felled in part by a combination of the carving that streaming services and delayed viewing have made on the Big 4 and their ratings of late and Disney’s recently regulatory approved big bucks hovering up of primary Fox assets like the TCFTV studio.
Pour into that a strategic directional alteration as the Murdoch-owned Fox network’s solidified an early decision to fill up a fair chunk of its two hours a night of primetime programming with high cost and high return sports like the NFL and WWE’s Smackdown.
Landing on that increasing rickety structure for the future of Empire like a fatal ceiling falling on Game of Thrones‘ Cersei Lannister and her brother Jaime, was the still swirling Smollett assault scandal that tumbled right into the cut throat politics of Chicago.
Insisting on his innocence in the early morning incident of January, first time felony offender Smollett on March 26 a pulled a lucky straw with overwhelmed prosecutors that saw 16 felony charges erased and the case sealed.
The actor was facing years behind bars for supposedly staging that racist and homophobic attack on himself at the end of the first month of the year. An agreement he instead forfeited a $10,000 bond and was given credit for a then recent stint of 20 hours of community service.
An almost immediate storm of protest rose up from the likes of early and empathic supporter Donald Trump, soon-to-be ex-Mayor Rahm Emanuel plus the Chicago PD, the First Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Joseph Magats quicky tried to deflect for his office by telling local media that he believed Smollett was guilty of staging the attack himself.
Handed the case after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx oddly recused herself under what has become increasing criticism, Magats also said the deal and the sealing of the case did not exonerate Smollett in any way – AKA, the whole thing was a PR nightmare that no one was really ever waking up from.
Since then, new lawsuits have gone back and forth, with the city going after Smollett after the actor declined to repay $130,000 for the costs of the investigation. Alleged attack collaborators Ola and Abel Osundairo sued Smollett’s lawyers Mark Geragos and Tina Glandian for defamation on April 23.
As Deadline exclusively revealed on April 24, Smollett received open backing from Henson, Howard and other key cast mates in a pleading correspondence advocating the return of the actor and his character to Empire for Season 6. Politely received by recipients Collier, Daniels ,Strong, Disney TV Studios and ABC Entertainment chair Dana Walden and Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn, the lengthy April 19 date letter wasn’t enough, as we now know, to a institute a resurgence in Smollett’s favor – or for Empire over long time either.
Empire‘s sixth and final season is presumed to launch in mid-September