"Empire" returned this week for the first time since former star Jussie Smollett was slapped with a 16-count indictment for allegedly staging a hoax hate crime — and, unsurprisingly, not a lot of people tuned in. In fact, compared to the midseason premiere last year, the show lost about a third of its audience and ended up scoring its second lowest ratings ever.
The Wrap breaks down the rather grim numbers for the embattled show, noting the midseason premiere Wednesday earned a disappointing "1.3 demo rating/6 share among adults 18-49, and 4.412 million total viewers." Those are the second worst numbers for any episode and about 600,000 viewers fewer than its December 5 fall finale, a drop of about 13%.
But the numbers look even worse compared to last year's midseason premiere. Wednesday's post-Smollett arrest episode was down 35% in the demo and 29% in total viewers from the previous year.
Things went from bad to worse for Smollett last week when a Cook County grand jury significantly escalated the stakes of his case by returning a 16-count indictment against him for allegedly filing a false police report with the Chicago Police Department about a January 29 incident that investigators say was "orchestrated" by the actor.
The grand jury charged Smollett with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct, effectively one count for every individual false statement he made to authorities, including that he was physically assaulted by two men, that they poured an unknown chemical on him, and that they hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him. He was charged with "eight counts for what he told the officer who responded to the report of the Jan. 29 attack in downtown Chicago, and eight counts for what he later told a detective about being the victim of a brutal racist and homophobic beating by two masked men," Fox News notes.
"Jussie Smollett knew that at the time of this transmission [of the claims] there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed," the indictment states.
"These charges are in addition to the 'felony disorderly conduct — false report' Smollett was hit with last month," The Daily Wire's Emily Zanotti reported when prosecutors first announced the charges. "Cook County prosecutors decided to charge Smollett with the single count while awaiting the decision of a so-called 'John Doe' jury, which sits daily in Chicago criminal court and analyzes evidence presented without knowledge of the perpetrator."
Smollett, who was released on $100,000 bond, has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Mark Geragos, has decried the charges brought by the grand jury as "prosecutorial overkill."
Smollett was initially charged with a single count of felony disorderly conduct for filing a false report. The charge was brought by Chicago Police a few days after investigators interviewed two associates of Smollett who told authorities that they were the two men in the attack and that Smollett paid them to carry it out in order to promote his career. Police say Smollett appears to have been dissatisfied with the response to a threatening letter containing white powder sent to him a few weeks earlier. The evidence also suggests Smollett sent the threatening letter to himself, a claim federal authorities are still investigating and for which he could face even more consequences.