UPDATED: Empire is back and as powerful as ever.
The return of Fox’s breakout drama delivered 16.2 million viewers and a 6.7 rating among adults 18–49 on Wednesday night.
That’s up 81 percent from the show’s series premiere last January, and down just slightly from the show’s all-time high.
This marks Fox’s highest-rated season premiere for a scripted show in six years (since House in 2009).
Fox also had some good news in the 8 p.m. hour. The series premiere of Rosewood (7.4 million, 2.4 in the demo) performed better than expected. The forensic procedural starring Morris Chestnut managed to self-start and hold its own to tie the return of Survivor in the hour — that’s despite Rosewood drawing some of the harshest reviews of the new fall crop, averaging only 37 out of 100 on Metacritic.
It’s worth recalling how Empire became a ratings phenomenon last season. Launched out of American Idol, the hip-hop drama starring Terrence Howard as a music mogul was a success out of the gate with 9.8 million viewers and a 3.7 rating. But it’s what happened next that stunned the industry: Empire kept growing and growing and growing, rising nearly every week of its 12-episode run, defying conventional gravity with continued growth, and cresting with its season finale — delivering 17.6 million viewers and a 6.9 rating. (Here’s EW’s Empire return recap).
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Empire gave Fox the sort of ratings nitro boost the network hadn’t seen since Idol‘s glory days. But with the start of the new season, Fox’s prospects were looking murky. On Monday, Gotham returned low for its second season premiere, and new sci-fi drama Minority Report face-planted. On Tuesday, the network’s seemingly most promising new bet — Scream Queens — found its lunch eaten by The Muppets. Empire returning formidable (and possibly Rosewood finding ongoing traction, as well) gives the network at least one really strong night.
Also Wednesday: NBC’s The Myseries of Laura (6.9 million, 1.2 in the demo) returned down 40 percent for its second season (the biggest mystery is why this was renewed); Law & Order: SVU (8.2 million, 1.7) returned lower. On CBS, veteran Survivor (9.6 million, 2.4) slipped a bit. ABC had some refreshing news in the 8 p.m. hour, with both The Middle (8.1 million, 2.1) and The Goldbergs (7.6 million, 2.4) returning steady. But facing off against Empire, Modern Family (9.3 million, 3.1) was down 18 percent and Black-ish (7.3 million, 2.4) was down 27 percent from their premieres last fall. At 10 p.m., Nashville (5 million, 1.3) existed.