Chicago is “Empire’s” kind of town


Chicago-produced hip-hop drama is city’s top-rated show

Despite its New York setting, Chicago is becoming Empire’s kind of town.

While the locally-shot Fox drama is showing unprecedented ratings growth (at least in this day and age), more and more Chicago viewers can’t get enough of the Lyons.

In a ratings report as part of an overall look at the Chicago market by Media Life, Empire is the top-rated program in primetime by a wide margin. For the week ending January 25, Empire finished on top with 522,000 viewers, nearly two hundred thousand viewers ahead of second-place 60 Minutes and fourth-place Chicago P.D., which is also locally shot.

Set in the world of hip-hop, Empire is about a record exec and his boisterous family – and things take a turn for the worse when the exec’s ex-wife (played brilliantly by Taraji P. Henson) is released from prison and battles him for control for the label. She also must deal with her three estranged grown children (two who are musicians) and the her ex-husband’s new beau. The clashes have made for great television.

Empire’s ratings are through the roof, with the Wednesday night drama showing surprising week-to-week growth – the series premiered on January 7 with a 3.8 adults 18-49 rating and earned a 4.7 rating in its most recent outing on February 11 – a 24 percent increase. Already, Empire is television’s third ranked scripted show, only behind The Walking Dead and The Big Bang Theory.

And among African-Americans, Empire reigns supreme with 7.6 million viewers for the week ending Feb. 8, nearly double of its nearest competitor, The Grammy Awards. African-Americans make up 67 percent of Empire’s audience.

Empire’s success is due to numerous factors – one, its a drama featuring a mostly African-American cast with an urban backdrop. Historically, programs with black casting have been comedies, and have been the most successful. But dramas with mostly black casting have not fared nearly as well – on broadcast or cable (besides Soul Food.) Having Empire set in the exciting urban/hip-hop backdrop helps tremendously.

This isn’t the first time a drama featured a family running a hip-hop record label – Platinum, a series with a somewhat similar theme, ran for six weeks on UPN in 2003. Unlike Empire, the characters were not as outlandish and the writing was dreadful.

Here’s some other notable observations from the list:

Despite its local station continuing to be a non-factor in local news races, CBS placed ten primetime shows in the top 25, led by 60 Minutes.

Apparently, Chicago still loves reality TV: three shows were in the top ten and six were of a non-scripted nature overall.

And we love sports, of course: A Bulls game on TNT placed tenth.

Though American Idol has historically underperformed in Chicago, ratings have actually held up here for its latest edition. The two weekly editions placed eighth and seventeenth, respectively.

– While ABC only had two shows  in the top 25 (Bachelor and Shark Tank), keep in mind this report was out a week before the return of the network’s popular Thursday night lineup of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder.

The article also talked about how local stations are reaping from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s re-election bid and local radio stations still struggling to attract advertising after an unimpressive year revenue-wise.