Fox execs announced Monday that Empire will end its run after its sixth season, but added it has no plans (at least, for now) to bring back Jussie Smollett (Jamal) to help the drama say goodbye.
“We are turning the final season into a large TV event,” says Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier during a Monday call with reporters. “We are trying to go out guns a-blazing. One of the great benefits of announcing the final season is that it actually allows fans to lean in and have the ending they deserve. Six years is a remarkable run.”
When pressed whether Smollett — who back in January claimed to be the victim of a racial and homophobic attack on Jan. 29 in Chicago — would return, Collier said they still have the option. But he also added that the writers’ room has yet to reconvene for the final season and “there are no plans at this point.”
When Fox announced in April that it was renewing the drama for a sixth year, the execs made sure to point out that a Jamal comeback was not in the cards. Still, the door was left open. “By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for season 6, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to Empire,” according to a statement from Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox TV.
Last month, a rep for Smollett released this statement about the Empire season 6 renewal: “We’ve been told that Jussie will not be on Empire in the beginning of the season but he appreciates they have extended his contract to keep Jamal’s future open. Most importantly he is grateful to Fox and Empire leadership, cast, crew and fans for their unwavering support.”
After Smollett was arrested for filing a false police report — only for the charges to be dropped — Fox removed Smollett from the final two episodes of season 5. His character was given a happy ending with a wedding to Kai.
Off camera, however, Smollett remains under fire for the January incident. Chicago filed a lawsuit against the actor in an attempt to recoup the costs of investigating the attack that authorities believe was orchestrated by Smollett. The actor claimed masked men beat him up after leaving a Subway in the early hours of Jan. 29 and wrapped a rope around his neck.
Empire’s eventual departure means one less drama that features an African-American cast. Since the comedy Rel was canceled after just one season — not to mention the loss of Lethal Weapon that featured Damon Wayans in the leading role — Collier was questioned Monday about the network’s ongoing commitment to diversity.
“Fox is the number one network in the ethnic demos,” he replied. “We appreciate the diversity of Fox. It’s an issue that’s so important and ongoing. It’s an effort for us to make sure we are the best in class. If you look across our slate, scripted and unscripted and in every corner, we really are doing a good job but the job never stops.”