Empire will return for its final season this fall on Fox, with Jussie Smollett a question mark, and should count itself lucky.
Fox, the lowest-rated network among the big four broadcasters, is hitting the reset button for the 2019-20 season by cancelling eight shows and adding 10 new ones.
Empire companion drama Star is among the goners as the network makes room for an eclectic mix of wrestling, three new animated comedies and a 9-1-1 spinoff starring Rob Lowe.
“We are turning the final season of ‘Empire’ into a large television event,” Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier told a teleconference Monday. “One of the great benefits of announcing a final season is that you actually allow the fans to lean in and have the ending they deserve.”
Collier dodged questions about Smollett’s future with the show. The actor was accused of staging an attack last January in which he said two masked men beat him, hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him, doused him with a chemical substance and put a rope around his neck. Criminal charges were dropped but the uproar has yet to subside, making Smollett a continued publicity liability for Fox.
When pressed, Collier said there is an option to include him in the series “but at this point we have no plans for that.”
A spokesman for Smollett didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.
As for Star, which had been paired on the schedule with Empire, it fell victim to Fox’s prime-time schedule, which is an hour shorter per night than the other networks, Collier said. The network also wanted to give Empire a strong send-off by pairing it with returning medical drama The Resident, he said.
Fox was split from sibling studio 20th Century Fox Television after Walt Disney Co. purchased the studio and other major assets of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. But Collier, in a strenuously upbeat statement, said today “marks a beginning for Fox Entertainment” as it works with a variety of studios for its new shows.
“Fox is not only open for business but we feel like we’re stronger than ever,” Collier said.
He gave much the same pep talk later Monday to a theater filled with ad buyers, then asked stars from the new series to take a bow and required that they describe their projects in five words, apparently Fox’s version of haiku poetry.
“This time, there’s no virgins,” Tori Spelling offered for the Beverly Hills, 90210 reboot, titled BH90210 and set to debut this summer.
While the network is emphasizing it’s still in the series game, the presentation went heavy on sports: A succession of analysts and hosts, including Terry Bradshaw and Michael Strahan, touted upcoming game coverage. The network even worked a football legend into a mini-performance of The Masked Singer.
Hidden inside a deer costume, he gamely tackled Luck Be a Lady Tonight, and the show’s panelists were asked to guess his identity.
After speculating that the mystery man wasn’t really a singer and mulling the clues provided, Jenny McCarthy proved her detective skills: It was Joe Namath.