You wonder at this point if the Empire Carpet Man can draw better ratings than Empire itself these days.
Wednesday episode of the serialized hip-hop drama drew its lowest ratings to date: a 1.9 rating in the key 18-49 demo, down 47 percent from the May 4, 2016 airing as Empire was barely ahead of longtime CBS occupant Survivor. Just two years ago when it debuted, this series was hovering around a 6.7 rating in a demo.
Now we’ve seen shows who were hot freshman hits crater before – remember Mork & Mindy? But the series’ decline was due to a rushed time period change ABC made and several cast member changes in its second season, resulting in a 27th place finish – down from third in its blockbuster first season. By the fourth and (very forgettable) final season, Mork & Mindy was not only getting hammered by CBS’ Magnum P.I. on Thursday nights, but also by NBC’s Fame.
To be fair, these are only “live” ratings – without DVR numbers added in. And ratings for almost all network shows are down this season from last. But the rapid ratings erosion Empire is experiencing is concerning. And for Fox, this is more bad news for a network who is getting beat in total viewers almost nightly by its cable news counterpart.
So what’s going on?
For one, Empire is facing tough competition for African-American viewers from the NBA Playoffs – you know, where the Bulls were eliminated from last week? The NBA Playoffs are generally the most-watched programming in black homes – draining live viewership away from Empire and another show popular with African Americans, black-ish. In fact, the NBA Playoffs has also been the highest-rated programming in the 18-49 demo almost every night among all networks, regardless of color. Despite both games being blowouts, the NBA Playoffs on TNT Wednesday beat Empire and all network competition among adults 18-49, with a 2.0 rating.
Second, the antics of the Lyon family seem to be a tougher sell in a new political era where Donald Trump is President. The nonsense of Lucious Lyon and Empire pales in comparison with the heartless, cruel things Trump and his administration are doing – taking away healthcare, eroding consumer rights, and giving corporations more power over people is unfathomable. Who can tell the difference? Lucious Lyon is nothing but Trump in a black man’s body.
It reminds viewers of the very things Trump and cronies (and to a lesser extent, Gov. Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel) does on a daily basis. Why watch the fictional antics of a money-hungry family like the Lyons every week when you can watch the news every day and see the real thing cause real harm to real people? Granted, the current storyline featuring a politician trying to get even with the Lyon family after Cookie spilled the beans about their relationship seems quite far-fetched. In fact, a scene from next week’s episode seemed straight out of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, another ratings-challenged drama. Is Cookie working for Hydra now?
When you think about it, the same can be said for ABC’s Scandal and Designed Survivor – both series are based in the White House. It’s fiction, but can it really compare to the outrageousness of the Trump administration? Ratings for Scandal are also down and Designated Survivor is fighting for survival.
While Lucious Lyon is a evil man, he has nothing on the real evil character playing the President. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. But whether Empire has a future after next season is a question mark. Then again, the same can be asked about the future of Trump in the White House.