Fox announced Monday that the upcoming sixth season of “Empire” will be its last.
But Monday’s announcement appeared to make it unlikely for Smollett to return to his breakout role. During a conference call with reporters to discuss Fox’s lineup for the upcoming season, network executives reiterated that despite the extended option, the show has “no plans” to bring back Smollett.
“We’re excited to see the show go out with a bang and, really, that’s what we’ve been focused on,” said Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier.
Collier said the network aimed to turn the show’s final season “into a large television event,” with “Empire” moving to a new night and time — airing at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays following Fox’s medical drama “The Resident.”
Pressed for a direct answer on whether Smollett could return to the show, Collier echoed that Fox has “no plans for that,” but ultimately said it was too early to call: “The writer’s room hasn’t even gathered yet,” he said.
Smollett, 36, was charged in February with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report. The actor told Chicago police in January that he had been attacked by two individuals who yelled racist and homophobic slurs, but authorities later said Smollett had staged the attack. In March, he was indicted on 16 felony counts, to which he pleaded not guilty. Later that month, prosecutors made a staggering announcement: They were dropping all charges against the actor.
Amid his legal troubles, the show’s producers removed Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, from Season 5′s final two episodes. In his last appearance, Jamal married his longtime boyfriend and (in a convenient exit for the character) went on his honeymoon. Some of Smollett’s co-stars have lamented his uncertain fate on the show. As Deadline reported last month, Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard were among the cast members who asked, in a lengthy letter to Fox execs and the show’s producers, that the actor be brought back to the show.
“Empire” was a boon for Fox in its early seasons, with unprecedented ratings growth that prompted (often tone-deaf) discussions about the value of diverse programming.
NPR’s Eric Deggans noted that the decision to end the drama, along with several other canceled shows — including “Rel,” “Lethal Weapon,” “The Cool Kids” and “Star” (another musical drama produced by “Empire” co-creator Lee Daniels) — would leave the network without a “showcase” for black actors. Despite ending several shows led by or prominently featuring black actors, Collier said diversity was an ongoing effort at Fox.
“If you look across our slate in terms of scripted and unscripted and sports, we really are, I think, doing a good job, but the job never stops,” he said. “The effort continues.”