If the fallout from the Jussie Smollett case is any indication, he might not want to celebrate just yet. In fact, his case may have far-reaching implications than anyone thinks.
Smollett’s charges stemming from an alleged hoax of his hate crime were dropped Tuesday, surprising and stunning the city and the nation. In this space, I pointed out the problems for Empire and Smollett could be behind them and Empire’s chances of renewal – a bubble show – increased.
Or so we thought. The intense backlash – especially from conservatives – may have newly Disney-owned 20th Century Fox Television officials rethinking their stance. And Smollett returning to Empire as if nothing ever happened isn’t as simple as you think.
For one – even though the charges were dropped, Smollett still faces charges of mail tampering. And there are numerous calls for a FBI investigation into the case, not only into Smollett, but also the Cook County State Attorney’s office headed by Kim Foxx. And the prosecutor who was forced to drop those charges is now saying he believed Smollett lied to police. “We believe he did what he was charged with doing,” prosecutor Joe Magats said. “This was not an exoneration. To say he was exonerated by us or anyone else is not true.”
Even though most conservatives don’t watch Empire, there was considerable backlash from the decision. Just last week, Fox separated from the studio producing Empire as it became the property of Disney in a $71.3 billion deal announced in December 2017. The ultra-conservative Fox News Channel is the crown jewel of the new Fox Corporation, and you wonder if Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch are watching this reaction very closely.
Rupert Murdoch has made calls on shows before: In 1999, he ordered the drama Manchester Prep shut down before it aired a single episode, and reportedly had a hand in canceling syndicated game show Studs in 1993. Of course, he did let The Little Groom and Who Wants To Marry A Multimillionaire go on the air.
Despite ratings declines, Empire is still one of the top-rated series in black households while Fox News Channel is the top-rated cable network with opinion shows from Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity drawing nearly four million viewers a night on average – topping virtually everything on The CW and many shows on the major broadcast networks. If Smollett returns to the show, do you really think Murdoch isn’t going to throw him and Empire under the bus? Do you really think Rupert Murdoch values African-American viewership more than his predominately white, conservative Fox News base? If you answered yes to these two questions, seek medical attention immediately.
Also keep in mind Fox renewed two shows from its former studio on Monday – 9-1-1 and The Resident, bypassing Empire entirely – a show whose ratings in the 18-49 demo continues to decline and the Smollett controversy hasn’t helped. And Fox affiliates would be very concerned as they certainly don’t want the headache.
And the controversy also could impact production not only on Empire, but every show filming in Chicago. On Tuesday, a state representative announced what is called “outrage legislation” – eliminating tax credits from any production Smollett is in here in Illinois, should he return to the show. While you can say this idiot politician, who represents a wide section of Chicago’s Northwest Side – home to scores of police officers and firefighters – his proposal is telling, given many in Hollywood and in the arts and creative communities have been outspoken against police brutality and are involved in other social issues.
Smollett has support from them and if this legislation passes, it could discourage future projects from filming in Chicago. The legislation was introduced on the same day the Writer’s Guild announced their opposition to a new Georgia abortion bill, which could discourage projects from filming in that state. Tax credits are meant to stimulate film and TV production, but have been controversial in nature.
And I won’t talk about Chicago’s image problems resulting from Smollett – been there, done that. I’ll only waste more of your time and mine since I’ve written about them in this space for over ten years. If you’ve read this blog during this span of time, then you know damn well how Chicago (the city’s radio in particular) and the media business is run. They’re inseparable at this point.
Anyone who thinks this Smollett crap is over is only fooling themselves. Oh yes, the real fun is just beginning – for both Chicago and Hollywood, two entities conservatives despise the most.