‘Empire’ Canceled 2 Months After Jussie Smollett Was Arrested

By Zachary Stieber

Fox’s hit show “Empire” has been canceled, executives said on May 13.

The cancellation came two weeks after the company renewed the show for its sixth season ahead of the season five finale and about two months after star Jussie Smollett was arrested for allegedly filing a false police report.

Ratings for the show dropped with Smollett embroiled in the controversy stemming from the actor allegedly being attacked in downtown Chicago on Jan. 29 in the middle of the frigid polar vortex.

Two men seen on surveillance video were later identified as Smollett’s trainers Abel and Ola Osundairo. The Nigerian-Americans told police that Smollett had paid them to stage a hate crime, leading to his arrest.

Prosecutors inexplicably dropped the 16 felony counts against Smollett several weeks later, a move criticized by police, the mayor, and a state prosecutors group.

Jussie Smollett court Chicago Illinois
Actor Jussie Smollett (C) outside Leighton Courthouse in Chicago, Ill., on March 26, 2019. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

During a conference call with reporters on May 13, Fox CEO Charlie Collier said that the show would be ending after the sixth season.

“We are turning the final season of Empire into a large television event . . . We are moving it to 9 o’clock, we’re putting it behind The Resident, and we really are trying to go out guns a-blazing. If you think about it, one of the great benefits of announcing a final season is that you actually allow the fans to lean in and have the ending they deserve,” Collier said, according to Vanity Fair.

The executive then said that there were no plans for Smollett’s return. The actor was reportedly dropped from the show after being arrested.

The cast of TV show Empire
(L-R) Actors Jussie Smollett, Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Co-Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Lee Daniels, and Executive Producers Sanaa Hamri and Ilene Chaiken of ‘Empire’ speak onstage during the FOX portion of the 2017 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Aug. 8, 2017 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

“There’s an option to have Jussie in the series but we have no plans for that,” Collier said, according to Deadline.

The shift to a cancellation came amid optimism that the show would keep going, reported the news outlet.

“Things were still looking good several weeks ago for a longer run when options for key cast like Lyon matriarch Cookie (Henson), patriarch Lucious (Howard), on-screen sons Bryshere Y. Gray and Trai Byers, and Gabourey Sidibe and Nicole Ari Parker were sewed up last month for another season, I hear,” reported writer Dominic Patten.

The cancellation “would have seemed absurd just a few years ago” as it was putting up huge ratings, Patten noted, adding that “‘Empire’ fell prey to forces primarily outside its own small-screen borders, felled in part by a combination of the impact of streaming services and delayed viewing on the Big 4 ratings and Disney’s recently hoovering up of primary Fox assets like the TCFTV studio.”

Jussie Smollett, a cast member in the TV series "Empire," attends the Fox Networks Group 2018
Jussie Smollett, a cast member in the TV series “Empire,” attends the Fox Networks Group 2018 programming presentation afterparty in New York on May 14, 2018. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Two Weeks Ago

Fox said in a statement on April 30 that “Empire” would be renewed for the sixth season.

“By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for season 6, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to ‘Empire,’” Fox said in the statement.

Smollett was one of the main stars of the show before being axed, and the actor expressed hope that he would be able to rejoin the show.

“We’ve been told that Jussie will not be on ‘Empire’ in the beginning of the season but he appreciates they have extended his contract to keep Jamal’s future open,” a representative said in a statement sent to news outlets. “Most importantly he is grateful to Fox and ‘Empire’ leadership, cast, crew, and fans for their unwavering support.”

Supporters had asked Fox to bring Smollett back to the show, including leading cast members Taraji Henson and Terrence Howard.