The Fox drama series “Empire,” which has been in the headlines because of what began as an apparent hate crime against actor Jussie Smollett and has since become a major controversy surrounding Smollett, returns tonight for the second half of its 18-episode season, with Brian Lowry writing in a piece for CNN that the Smollett situation clouds the future of the show.
The show’s return comes the same week that Smollett appeared in court after being hit with a 16-count felony indictment for allegedly filing a false police report in connection with what is now widely believed to be an attack that was staged by the actor. Smollett has denied the charges.
“The network has already announced that the actor will be left out of the last two episodes to ‘avoid further disruption on set,’ although it’s unclear how his absence will be explained,” Lowry writes. “That means the seventh hour in this latest run could wind up being his character’s last on the series. The program has yet to be renewed for next season, a decision Fox won’t have to officially make until May.”
Smollett plays Jamal on the series, and Lowry notes that “Jamal is a major character and has a significant storyline as these new episodes get under way. His relationship with Kai (Toby Onwumere) has placed him between the journalist and his family, in what amounts to a test of his loyalties.”
The report notes that “Empire,” even though it has fallen off in viewership since its early days as a breakout hit, “remains Fox’s second-most-watched drama in key demographics. Per Nielsen data, same-day ratings averaged about 5 million viewers through the first half of the season, which ended in December.”