Report: ‘Empire’ Could Be Cancelled over Jussie Smollett Scandal

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Chuck Hodes/20th Century Fox Television
JOHN NOLTE

Empire could be cancelled by Fox TV over starring actor Jussie Smollett’s hate-hoax scandal, reports TMZ.

The Empire cast and crew are sweating over the prospect of being renewed for a sixth season, and many believe Smollett could tip the show into cancellation. According to TMZ, there is no news yet on a sixth season renewal for the aging hit. This is unusual because Fox has almost always renewed the show by now.

“We’re told people who’ve been working on the show for years are griping they should’ve heard the news one way or another by now, and expected to get word on the fate of the show around 2 weeks ago,” TMZ reports.

But this might be much ado about nothing. Last season, Fox waited even longer to renew, which makes sense for a show that is slipping in the ratings (only five to six million tuned in last season compared to the 16 to 17 million who watched season one) and undoubtedly costs a fortune to produce. Of course, the stigma of the scandal is not helping.

Jussie Smollett has been charged with 16 felonies. Police say the 36-year-old actor, who is black and gay, orchestrated a hate crime against himself. In late January, Smollett told police he was assaulted by two white men in red hats. After they poured bleach on his black skin and wrapped a noose around his neck, he claims they yelled “This is MAGA country!” a direct reference to President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Police say two black men confessed to accosting Smollett, but that the actor paid them $3500 to do so.

Basically, Fox is facing the prospect of spending $3 to $5 million (educated guess) per episode and wondering if it’s worth it, so it makes sense for them to see how the scandal affects the ratings for the second half of the fifth season, which hits the airwaves Wednesday.

On top of the ratings and Smollett scandal, another mark against Empire is its serialized story, which means there is almost no money to be made in syndication by producing additional episodes. People who watch reruns want self-contained episodes, which is why Law & Order will rerun forever but you never see Dallas or Dynasty, or Lost or The Shield.  It makes sense for NBC to drive Law & Order: SVU into the ground; every episode produced will generate a ton of money in perpetuity through syndication. Empire’s only ancillary hopes are Netflix and a “complete series” DVD collection.

Also of interest in the TMZ report is the news that “even if Fox does renew the show, higher-ups have expressed serious reservations about Jussie returning … as have many folks on the cast and crew … even some who have publicly supported him.”

Smollett was removed from the last few episodes of season five and now there is talk of replacing his character with another actor or writing him out completely.

Basically, Fox is in a no-win situation. A short 7 to 10 episode final season to tie the story up is probably the best way to go.

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