Fox is expanding its breakout mega-hit Empire. Fox chairman and CEO Gary Newman confirmed he’s boosting Empire‘s episode count in the second season to 18 episodes, versus the 12 episodes that aired during its debut season this year.
Also, with Empire launching in the fall instead of midseason, the network plans to split its 18-episode second run into two halves.
The Terrence Howard-starring hip-hop drama made a record-breaking splash in its debut on Wednesday nights, defying gravity by continuing to grow with each subsequent episode. Its season finale snagged 16.7 million viewers and a 6.5 in the 18-49 demographic. Going into the upfronts, one big question was whether Fox would move Empire to Thursday nights, which is the most lucractive weekday for advertising. But doing so would also mean that Empire would likely face ABC’s own powerhouse, Scandal, at 9 p.m.
“We’d be crazy to move it,” Fox chairman and CEO Gary Newman told reporters ahead of the network’s upfront presentation on Monday morning. “We want to thank and reward our fans by keeping it in that time period… The stories we’ve heard already for season 2 will blow away the audience.”
While Fox does not plan to re-air Empire ahead of the second season—you can watch the full season on Hulu now—the network has a number of ideas to keep the show on viewers’ minds before its return.
“We’ve got a lot of big events scheduled,” Fox’s other chairman and CEO Dana Walden said. “The cast has been out—Jussie [Smollett] and Yazz [Grey]—performing in various markets. They’ve done mall tours [and] performed in smaller venues. Taraji [P. Henson] hosted Saturday Night Live. We’ve got some exciting plans that will kick off in June.” Though Walden declined to get more specific, she did point out that Fox is planning to give the cast some much needed rest time before season 2—a smart move after the cast of Glee seemed to suffer from exhaustion after year-round promotion.
As for the second season, Walden notes, “We’ve also got amazing guest stars that have lined up to be on the show that will help us not only bring back an audience that fell in love with the show, but help expand it as well.” Empire has also signed Ne-Yo to write new original music with Timbaland for the second out.
Empire will return Wednesdays at 9 p.m. this fall.