(Editor’s Note: Updated to add ratings information from last night’s episode.)
While Jussie Smollett’s tenure on Empire this season wound down Wednesday night, the battle on whether or not he returns to the show is just beginning.
Earlier in the day Wednesday, the cast of the Fox show sent a letter to numerous executives at Disney and Fox as reported by Deadline. “Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire,” in a memo obtained by the publication dated April 19. Those executives who received the memo were from Fox Corp. and ABC Entertainment, who now produces Empire and the show’s executive producers, Lee Daniels and Danny Strong.
The memo was signed by cast members Terrence Howard, Trai Byers, Bryshere Y. Gray, Gabourey Sidibe, Nicole Ari Parker, and Taraji P. Henson. The letter states he is innocent of his crimes as charges were dropped, and also notes “It’s clearer every day that the extreme political climate in our country has only made our system of justice and the court of public opinion more unjust.”
As you know, Smollett claimed he was attacked by two people wearing MAGA hats on Chicago’s Near North Side January 29, later turning out to be a hoax according to Chicago Police. Charges against Smollett were dropped by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in a highly controversial move, and polarized Chicago along racial lines in the likes not seen since “Council Wars” in the 1980s. Smollett was slammed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, and the Fraternal Order of Police, who also criticized Foxx’s handling of the case and demanded she resign. The saga is already adding to a very high-stakes 2020 campaign season, where Foxx and President Trump are up for re-election.
Since, Smollett has been sued by the city, and the two Nigerian brothers who participated in the attack are now suing Smollett’s legal team for defamation of character.
Smollett was taken off Empire for the last two episodes of the season as his character was married off in this week’s episode. Fox has not decided it if would renew Empire, while 9-1-1, The Resident, and Last Man Standing were picked up for the 2019-20 season. Smollett’s option on the show is up at the end of June, but Fox must decide the show’s future before the upfronts, which takes place in three weeks.
Wednesday’s night episode earned a 1.1 rating in adults 18-49 demo, in line with what the series was doing previously.
Ratings for Empire has declined for years – and haven’t grown even with the Smollett controversy, but is still strong among African-American audiences – which could give the show a decent chance for renewal. Empire was produced by 20th Century Fox Television and still airs on Fox but since March, the former has become part of The Walt Disney Company and Fox is now part of a new entity, Fox Corporation.
As this blog has pointed out earlier regarding this matter, it would be interesting to see what the reaction is on whether Smollett comes back or not – and we’ll find out if Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan value their predominately white, conservative Fox News base – who were outraged over Smollett’s alleged stunt – over African-American viewers, who continue to support and watch Empire. Either way, there is going to be a unhappy group of people and we’ll never hear the end of it.