Just as Lee Daniels said, former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett will not be returning for the hip-hop drama’s final season, Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier said during the Television Critics Association press tour Wednesday.
“As much as anything in cases like this… you try to gather all the information, you try to make a good decision at the time,” Collier told reporters, referring to Fox’s decision to extend Smollett’s option for Season 6 when the show was renewed in April.
He noted at that time, however, there were “no plans” for the actor to return.
A month after that news, the network announced that the upcoming sixth season would be the show’s last, but wouldn’t directly address if/how Smollett — who plays the openly-gay Jamal Lyon — would be incorporated into that final batch of episodes.
“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,” C0llier said during a briefing call with reporters ahead of the network’s upfront presentation. “The writers’ room for the next season hasn’t even gathered yet.”
Not long after that, co-creator Daniels refuted stories — including TheWrap’s — that the writers’ room was working on ideas to bring Smollett back. “This is not factual. Jussie will NOT be returning to Empire,” Daniels tweeted in response to a Variety story, which first reported the news of Smollett’s potential return.
Following Variety’s initial story, multiple individuals familiar with the situation subsequently told TheWrap that Smollett was in early talks to make a return to “Empire.”
“Lee is right… no plans for Jussie to return to ‘Empire,'” Collier told reporters at TCA Wednesday.
The Fox Entertainment chief added that the network “worked really closely with our partners at [‘Empire’ studio 20th Century Fox Television]” while considering whether or not to bring back Smollett and that their final decision was affected by “time and information and conversations with all the right people.”
“A lot of television depends on when the writers are back and we worked closely with the writers to make sure we did the right things and put the show back together,” Collier said.
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 that 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.
Earlier this year, in a show of solidarity with Smollett, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard and a number of the show’s other stars, delivered a letter to Fox and the show’s producers calling for the actor to be brought back to the show. Among the other names signed to the letter were Bryshere Y. Gray, Trai Byers, Gabourey Sidibe and Nicole Ari Parker.
“Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of ‘Empire,'” the group wrote.
The letter continued, “We have come to know not just the character Jussie portrays, but also truly come to know Jussie’s personal character. He is kind. He is compassionate. He is honest and above all he is filled with integrity.”