“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,” Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox TV said in a side statement Tuesday.
“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,” said reps for the actor, who has played Jamal Lyon on Empire since the show premiered in January 2015. “Most importantly he is grateful to Fox and Empire leadership, cast, crew and fans for their unwavering support.”
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The language used by the Smollett’s team sure sounds like there was no “mutual” about the notion to pull the actor from Season 6. Still, Deadline reported on March 27 on the move to continue Empire without Smollett, so today’s news isn’t much of a surprise. Despite the spotlight on Smollett over his allegedly falsifying claims he was the subject of a hate crime attack, the Fox hip-hop drama created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong remains a big draw for Fox, even with its recent string of series-low ratings.
In fact, after the completion of Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of a big chunk of 21st Century Fox, the series was well represented in New Fox’s “fresh start” sizzle video played on-air during Empire‘s March 20 episode.
Smollett has continued to insist on his innocence in and saw the 16 felony charges he was facing in Chicago erased on March 26. Looking at potentially years behind bars for allegedly staging a racist and homophobic attack on himself on January 29, Smollett instead found his legal slate wiped clean, the controversial case sealed in exchange for forfeiting a $10,000 bond and credit for a then-recent stint of 20 hours of community service. The decision outraged the Chicago Police Department, outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and even Donald Trump.
There was no specific mention of Smollett in Empire‘s official renewal statement from Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn today. “Empire continues to break barriers with its emotionally powerful storytelling, and it remains a core part of the Fox legacy,” he said.
“We want to thank everyone on the show – Taraji, Terrence and the entire cast, as well as Lee, Danny, Brett, Sanaa, Brian, Francie, Dennis and their teams – all of whom have done a tremendous job this season,” the exec added.
“We know there are so many more stories to tell, and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for Season 6,” Thorn concluded, just over two weeks after, as Deadline revealed exclusively, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard and other leading cast members sent a letter to execs asking “that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire.”
As more lawsuits fly around the Windy City related to Smollett, it was not a message the Charlie Collier-run Fox nor the now Disney-owned 20th Century Fox TV agreed with — though there may yet be crack in the door left for Smollett.
Smollett has already been written out of the final two episodes of the current Season 5, which wraps May 8.
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