Producers of the hit show Empire are now considering suspending Jussie Smollett after his felony indictment Wednesday for staging a hate crime, reports Variety.
“Sources close to the production told Variety that producers are weighing whether to suspend the actor after he was charged Wednesday in Chicago with filing a false police report,” Variety adds.
Most telling is the news that “20th Century Fox Television, which produces the series, declined to comment.”
On Thursday morning, after surrendering to authorities, Smollett was formally arrested. He is expected to appear at a bond hearing later in the day where a judge will read him the charges to him before releasing the Empire star on bail.
As far as this Variety report, it comes right on the heels of a Wednesday statement from Fox in support of their star.
“Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,” the statement read.
But there are also reports that Smollett’s role is being drastically reduced in future episodes, which could mean two things: Fox wants to give Smollett the time he needs for the upcoming legal battle, or Fox is preparing to write him out of the series. I guess, both could be true. Either way, it is a huge disruption to an expensive production, a headache Fox can do without.
Which means that this so-called leak to Variety is undoubtedly a trial balloon, a way for Fox to gauge the reaction of a suspension before crossing a Rubicon that would make it official.
Smollett is by far one of Empire’s biggest stars, but public opinion is quickly turning against him. As the evidence and charges mount, many of his supporters are falling out in disgust at the idea he staged a hate crime against himself.
As of now, though, Fox is stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place, and this apparent trial balloon is a way for the studio to find a way out of the predicament.
There is also another issue involved here that is just as serious but not getting as much media attention as the hate crime hoax: The hate mail.
The same two brothers who told a Chicago grand jury Wednesday that Smollett hired them to stage the hate crime are also telling authorities Smollett had a role in sending the hate mail to himself. What’s more, the letter included a white powder (that turned out to be harmless).
What is key here is that this hate mail was addressed to Smollett at the Empire studios in Chicago, and one can only imagine the commotion, fear, disruption, and cost in lost man hours when a letter containing white powder arrives at any place of business, much less a studio in the middle of production on a hit television drama.
Currently, the Feds are investigating the letter, and on top of the three years and pricey fines Smollett could face for filing a false police report, federal mail fraud is whole other issue.
Nevertheless, Fox is in the business of attracting eyeballs, of keeping an aging hit show alive for as long as possible, and Smollett is their breakout star. This means the decision to fire him will have nothing to do with principle or right or wrong, and everything to do with gauging public opinion.
Of course, Fox would love to fire Smollett — be rid of him.
His presence in the series will forever be a distraction to viewers. Behind the scenes, the disruption to production must be brutal, including for his co-stars, who must be furious he has tainted what had been a career-defining show.
The sooner Fox can be rid of him, the better for everyone. But in this Woke world of ours, where identity trumps all, Fox has to tread carefully around its gay, black star, no matter what he may have done.