Fox revealed ahead of its upfront Monday that “Empire” will end with its upcoming sixth season. What the network didn’t reveal is how, if at all, Jussie Smollett will be worked into the show’s final batch of episodes.
During a briefing call with reporters Monday morning, Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier said Fox intends to take the Lee Daniels and Danny Strong-created hip-hop drama out as a “large television event” with “guns blazing.”
But he did not answer when asked directly multiple times if Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon, would be included in the final season, as the actor’s contract was extended to include a Season 6 option when “Empire” was renewed last month but Fox said there were “no plans” for his character Jamal to return at that time.
“I would say we are turning the final season of ‘Empire’ into a large television event, as we are thrilled to do,” Collier said, when first asked about the decision to bring the series to an end. “And if you look at what we’re doing with ‘Empire,’ we’re moving it to 9 o’clock, we’re putting it behind ‘The Resident’ and we really are trying to go out guns 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, and that’s everything we’re trying to do with this iconic series,” he continued. “Six years is really a pretty remarkable run for a drama series, as you know, and we feel really good about what we’re doing with it and how we’re platforming.”
When Collier was asked directly if Smollett would be included in Season 6, the Fox boss said: “We’re excited to see the show go out with a bang and really that’s what we’ve been focused on. And what’s been great in these early season conversations from Lee Daniels to all the writers is everyone is focused on giving it the crescendo it deserves.”
The Smollett question came up again during the call, with another reporter pressing on the possibility that Jamal would return in some capacity for the sixth and final season.
“You might have read recently there is an option to have Jussie in the series, but at this point, we have no plans for that,” Collier said. “The writers’ room for the next season hasn’t even gathered yet.”
Collier was then asked which way Fox was leaning on a Smollett appearance, more yes or more no, he responded: “Oh gosh, you know really the room hasn’t even gathered yet, so we have the option to do it but there are no plans at this point.”
The news of “Empire’s” end came along with the rest of Fox’s fall 2019 schedule, which was released just hours before the network’s annual upfront presentation to advertisers in New York. The new lineup also revealed “Empire” will be returning to its original Tuesday night at 9 p.m. time slot for its final run of episodes.
Fox renewed “Empire” for a sixth season late last month, noting at that time that there were “no plans” for Smollett to return to the show following his indictment on disorderly conduct charges after Chicago prosecutors accused him of staging a hate crime attack against himself.
“By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for season six, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to ‘Empire,'” the network said in a joint statement with studio 20th Century Fox TV at the time.
Smollett had previously been written out of the final few episodes of Season 5 after Chicago prosecutors charged him with multiple counts of filing a false police report, though those charges were later dropped as part of a deal requiring him to perform community service and forfeit $10,000 bond.
In an interview with TheWrap following the Season 5 finale, showrunner Brett Mahoney said no firm decision had been made regarding the possibility of Smollett returning at some point next season. “I think I just want what’s best for the show, so we’ll see what that is as we move forward,” he said.