On Tuesday, Lee Daniels, the co-creator of “Empire,” confirmed that actor Jussie Smollett will not be on the show for its sixth and last season.
Daniels was responding to an article in Variety which intimated that Smollett would be back for the last half of the sixth season. Daniels tweeted, “This is not factual. Jussie will NOT be returning to Empire.”
In its updated report issued after Daniels’ tweet, Variety reported of the production sources who had indicated Smollett would return, “The same production sources also note tensions were ratcheted up on set between the show’s primarily black cast members, who still believe Smollett is innocent, and the mostly white below-the-line crew, many of whom believe Smollett is guilty.”
The on-again, off-again reports of Smollett’s possible return included Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox TV issuing a statement in April saying, “By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for season six, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to Empire.”
Appearing on the Fox morning show “Good Day New York” in April after the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit against Smollett for damages associated with the investigation into his actions, Daniels was asked if the lawsuit created any difficulties in bringing Smollett back on the show. He answered, “It’s causing a dilemma. We are in discussions about that right now.”
On April 19, members of the “Empire” cast wrote a letter to Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier, Disney TV Studios and ABC Entertainment chair Dana Walden, Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn, “Empire” co-creators Daniels and Danny Strong, and other executive producers on the series, arguing, “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.”
In May, Fox reiterated that there were no plans to revivify Jamal Lyon, the character Smollett played. At roughly the same time, a spokesperson for Smollett told Fox, “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.”
In mid-May, Fox Entertainment announced that the upcoming season of “Empire” would be its last. Deadline reported, “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 is done.”
The most recent developments in the Smollett case came in late May, when a Chicago judge ruled in favor of media outlets who requested court documents and investigation records related to Smollett’s alleged fake hate crime. As The Daily Wire reported:
Smollett’s case files were sealed in the same hearing where the Cook County States Attorney announced that they would drop 17 felony counts against the “Empire” actor in return for approximately 16 hours of community service and a $10,000 check — the “down payment” Smollett left with the court when he was let out on bond.