A few weeks after several of the stars of Fox's hit television series "Empire" wrote a letter to executives and producers demanding the return of embattled actor Jussie Smollett, Fox Entertainment announced that this upcoming season will be the scandal-damaged show's last.
"Just two weeks after the Charlie Collier-run Fox Entertainment renewed Lee Daniels and Danny Strong’s hip hop drama for a sixth season and showed controversy ladened Jussie Smollett towards the exit door, it was announced today on Fox’s Upfront call that the self described 'groundbreaking cultural phenomenon' of Empire will be canceled once Season 6 s done," Deadline reports.
Collier told the press in a call announcing the end of the series that they plan to "go out guns a blazing." However, when asked about the prospect of Smollett returning, the CEO said that while they have "an option" to reinstate him, they have "no plans" for that. "There’s an option to have Jussie in the series but we have no plans for that," said Collier, Deadline notes.
The announcement of the show's demise follows a series of ratings setbacks and ugly headlines starring the former star Smollett. The actor and singer was initially charged by Chicago prosecutors with multiple felony counts for allegedly faking a hate crime against himself that he blamed on Trump supporters before the Cook County State's Attorney inexplicably dropped all charges, prompting more outrage from the public as well as key Chicago officials, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Chief Eddie Johnson.
Though Chicago prosecutors have made clear that the evidence against Smollett is convincing and the City of Chicago is currently suing Smollett for the $130,000, Smollett's fellow "Empire" cast members wrote a letter on April 24 to showrunners and studio execs declaring the actor "innocent and no longer subject to legal uncertainty" and demanding his reinstatement.
"Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire," Smollett's fellow "Empire" stars Terrence Howard, Taraji Henson, Bryshere Gray, Trai Byers, Gabourey Sidibe, and Nicole Ari Parker wrote. "We understand the past months have been difficult to process—sometimes the headlines brought more confusion than clarity, yet we now have a conclusion to this ordeal. Throughout Empire’s five seasons working with Jussie and watching how he has conducted himself throughout this traumatic event, we have come to know not just the character Jussie portrays, but also truly come to know Jussie’s personal character. He is kind. He is compassionate. He is honest and above all he is filled with integrity. He is also innocent and no longer subject to legal uncertainty with the criminal charges against him having been dropped. We are confident in his lawyer’s assurance that the case was dismissed because it would not have prevailed."
The letter was sent just days after the City of Chicago's Law Department filed a civil lawsuit against Smollett for $130,106.15 for resources they say he wasted by filing his false "hate crime" report. "This follows his refusal to reimburse the City of Chicago for the cost of police overtime spent investigating his false police report on January 29, 2019," a spokesman told the press.
The lawsuit stems from Smollett's claim that on January 29, 2019, he was attacked by two white Trump supporters who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him, assaulted him, threw an unknown substance on him, and tied a rope around his neck. But after police gathered overwhelming evidence indicating that Smollett had "orchestrated" the fake "hate crime" against himself with the help of his two personal trainers, a grand jury slapped the actor with 16 felony counts for filing the false report.
Though the state's attorney's office says the evidence against Smollett was solid, prosecutors abruptly dropped all charges in late March, accepting his $10,000 bond and past community service as part of a "modified plea bargain." Smollett, who was not required to admit responsibility in the highly unusual deal, has since proclaimed the decision as evidence that he is innocent.
But Chicago's Law Department says otherwise in its complaint against the actor, whom officials say "knew his attackers and orchestrated the purported attack himself."
"Later, when police confronted him with evidence about his attackers, he still refused to disclose his involvement in planning the attack," reads the complaint filed in mid-April. "On the evening of January 28, 2019, Defendant's flight into Chicago was delayed, and he called Abel (Osundairo) telling him he needed to delay the staged attack, and Abel agreed," the city says, citing evidence gathered by investigators. The Osundairo brothers told investigators Smollett wanted to stage the attack because "he was unhappy with the way his employers handled the racist and homophobic letter he had allegedly received and as a result wanted to stage an attack," the city says.