Empire returns tonight

The season premiere of Empire airs tonight at 9:00pm ET and the September 25, 2015 issue of The Hollywood Reporter has an article about the behind the scenes drama.

Empire3

Empire2

A dozen Empire writers are perched around a cluttered conference table in Beverly Hills when one of the series’ youngest voices clears her throat. “I think I have something,” she says, tapping her cotton-candy-pink nails nervously against the table. “It’s kinda crazy … ”

“Oh, we like crazy,” says co-creator Danny Strong, coaxing her along.

Her male hairdresser, she explains, had gone out one evening with his best girl friend and her boyfriend, and at the end of the night the boyfriend took the hairdresser aside and said, “You know, if you wanted to, you could suck my dick. I’m not gay or anything, but you know … it’s cool.”

Before she can finish, the room — a mix of black, white, Latino, gay, straight, seasoned, green and the formerly incarcerated — is howling. “I’m scandalized,” one of the more established writers shrieks in faux horror, when another cuts him off: “No, this is f—ing good.” For the next 15 minutes, they boisterously debate what constitutes cheating and whether this little tidbit is juicy enough to be repurposed as a storyline for season two.

Welcome to the Empire writers room, which is every bit as provocative, unfiltered and refreshingly diverse as the series itself. When the hip-hop drama starring Oscar nominees Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson as pigheaded music mogul Lucious Lyon and his fresh-out-of-prison ex-wife, Cookie, premiered in January on Fox, it blew up the decades-old mold of primetime programming — demonstrating that a show by black people, about black people and for black people could, in fact, appeal to other people, too. “For so long, we’ve had conversations that have ranged from challenging to unproductive with various creative partners about the value of having our shows reflect the audience that watches television,” says Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden. “The result is that you can have a big, fat hit.”

But Empire — conceived as either a “hip-hop Lion in Winter” or a “black Dynasty,” depending on whether you ask Strong or his co-creator Lee Daniels — was more than just a hit. It was a full-blown cultural phenomenon, the likes of which network television had not produced in years. It became the first series in more than 20 years to increase its viewership with each successive episode, quickly earning high-profile fans in Oprah Winfrey, Jack Nicholson and Michelle Obama. Yes, black viewers made up 63 percent of the series’ nearly 18 million weekly broadcast audience, but it was bigger and broader than a single demo. Factor in all of the platforms on which Empire has been offered, and more than 26 million viewers have tuned in for its often-outrageous plot twists and catchy Timbaland-produced soundtrack. More impressive: It not only drew the youngest audience for a network drama, with a median age of 43, but also the most social — 2.4 million tweets were fired off during the finale alone. All of which has the advertising community salivating; Fox’s asking price for a 30-second spot in the Sept. 23 premiere is said to be a staggering $750,000, and as much as $600,000 — peak American Idol range — for the remainder of the season.

Read it all at The Hollywood Reporter.

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