Fox’s Empire returned from its winter hiatus on Wednesday with the first new episode since actor Jussie Smollett was charged with allegedly lying to police about being the victim of a hate crime. The music drama took a bit of a hit in viewership; earning below-average ratings among adults 18-49 with the second-lowest numbers to date for the series.
Empire‘s numbers last night were the series’ lowest save for this past fall’s Halloween night episode, which saw a 1.2 rating and 4.2 million viewers. The fall finale episode December 5 did a 1.5 and 5.0 million viewers. Last season’s midseason return on March 28, 2018 notched a 2.0 rating and 6.2M sets of eyeballs.
Smollett was in court Thursday in Chicago and pleaded not guilty to 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct. He has been written out of the final two episodes of the season and his future on the series playing Jamal Lyon remains in question. Fox has not yet announced plans to renew the series for Season 6.
“Jussie has been an important member of our Empire family for the past five years and we care about him deeply,” producers of the series said in a statement last month. “While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out. We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season.”
Smollett is accused of orchestrating a hate crime attack on himself, which CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson described as a “shameful hoax.” Johnson claims Jussie staged the attack because he was dissatisfied with his more than $120,00 per episode paycheck on Empire.