Fox’s “Empire,” starring Terrence Howard as hip-hop mogul Lucious Lyon and Taraji P. Henson as his ex-wife Cookie, has emerged as one of 2015’s breakout series, with 12.9 million tuning in to watch the steamy and frequently outrageous music-industry drama last week. But what viewers might not know is how Kanye West inspired the show’s creator and executive producer Danny Strong to write the pilot.
“Right before I started to write the first draft of the pilot, I had this moment of crisis of, Oh, wait — I have no idea what I’m doing,” the Emmy-winning writer said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
And that’s where Mr. West factored in.
“So I just started watching Kanye West interviews, and I watched about 45 minutes of Kanye West interviews, and then at the end of those 45 minutes, I thought, OK, I’m good. I’m ready to do this,” Strong continued. “And then I went and I wrote the first draft of the pilot.”
Strong, who was awarded an Emmy in 2012 for writing HBO’s Sarah Palin biopic “Game Change,” may have drawn his “Empire” inspiration from West, but that doesn’t mean there’s a direct representation of the “No Church in the Wild” singer on the popular series. Lucious doesn’t wear Givenchy masks, and his young, rapper son Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) hasn’t married a reality starlet with an explicit sex tape — though a love interest in the show, Tiana Brown (Serayah), does have a soft-core petting session with her lesbian lover released online.
Aspects of West’s life and personality occurs across several characters — including even Cookie’s particular brand of sass — mixed with the influence of other larger-than-life music industry luminaries.
“Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough also asked Strong about the popularity of his new series, which has accomplished the historic feat of continuing to grow in viewership through each of its first six episodes.
“It’s been incredibly exciting,” Strong said. “Each week, the numbers go up and each week we send all these text messages around and now it’s just emoticons of crazy, crazy, crazy.”
“Empire” airs Wednesdays on Fox at 9 p.m..