“The first thing I’ll say is my heart goes out to Jussie and everyone involved,” Fox’s newly minted Entertainment chief Charlie Collier said today of the attack on Empire star Jussie Smollett last week in Chicago.
In his first TCA in his new job, the ex-AMC president and general manager on Wednesday cautioned that he couldn’t say more as “there is a criminal investigation on-going” regarding the seemingly racial- and homophobic-based attack on Smollett in the early morning of January 29. However, Collier did add Smollett is “an important and talented member of the Fox family and our heart goes out to him.”
Another topic Collier would not discuss was the future of Empire, the Lee Daniels and Danny Strong co-created hit hip hop drama that is currently in its fifth season. “We don’t have any pickups to announce today,” the exec said.
While Collier and Fox won’t say anything official, we hear talks regarding more of the series toplined by Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson are actually quite far along.
Smollett, who plays openly gay Jamal Lyon on the Fox drama, had just returned last Tuesday from New York to Chicago where Empire is shot. He was reportedly on the street near his apartment at around 2 AM when two men began hurling derogatory slurs at him. The two then attacked Smollett, hitting him repeatedly and pouring an unknown chemical substance over him now thought to have been bleach. The attackers reportedly also put a rope around Smollett’s neck before fleeing the scene.
After reporting the incident to police and conducting an initial interview with them, Smollett drove to Northwestern Hospital to be seen by doctors. Bruised but not admitted, the performer returned home under increased security later that morning and was said to be in good condition, police said.
Chicago police said quickly they were treating the matter as a “possible hate crime.” On January 31, one day after local law enforcement released photos of “persons of interest” in the matter, Chicago PD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi called the incident an “assault and battery case.”
On the day of the attack, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment
said in a statement that they were “deeply saddened and outraged” by the assault.
At a long-scheduled and SRO gig at the Troubadour in West Hollywood on Saturday, Smollett addressed the incident himself from the stage. As the Chicago police and FBI assisted investigation continued back in the Windy City, the performer told the packed crowd that “I had to be here tonight!”
Clearly moved by the turnout and reception of support, Smollett added to cheers in the legendary venue that “I couldn’t let those motherf*ckers win!”
Yesterday, the Chicago PD offered an update on the case via social media:
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 4, 2019
Collier’s executive session in Pasadena this morning followed a Prince soundtracked greatest hits video of Fox’s current programming with its mix of NFL, MLB, drama, unscripted, upcoming WWE, comedy and animation fare.
Noting that the “Disney transaction is yet to close,” Collier’s subsequent entrance appeared to mirror a segment of The Masked Singer with a hooded exec onstage. But of course it wasn’t the former AMC boss but Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul alum Jonathan Banks, who proceeded to introduce Collier who pushed the “Let’s Go Crazy” theme.
Pumping the optimism on what he called a “start-up company,” Collier noted it seems crazy “to scale down when everyone else is scaling up.”
Killing the first third of the 45-minute exec session with an inaugural address of sorts, seasoned pitchman Collier plugged the small is beautiful logline of New Fox and that the now NFL-fueled outlet was the only broadcast net to grow this season. Taking that ball over the line, to continue the gridiron connection, Collier made no small point of noting that Fox has Super Bowl LIV in 2020 out of Miami Gardens.
“I can assure you that the Murdochs and this management team are as curious as ever,” he assured the assembled media of the big bosses and the flexible strategy the new network plans to employ.