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Empire spent a big chunk of its winter hiatus making headlines, but apparently, not for the kind of reasons that attract viewers. Actor Jussie Smollett was arrested and faces a felony criminal charge of disorderly conduct. It was difficult to guess whether all the buzz would help, hurt, or not affect at all the ratings for the second half of Empire. Now that the spring premiere has aired, the numbers are in, and they aren't great.
In Empire's 8 p.m. ET Wednesday time slot on Fox, the spring premiere drew a 1.3 rating in the key 18-49 age demographic and a grand total of 4.41 million viewers in Live+Same day calculations, according to The Wrap. While those numbers wouldn't be terrible for a show on most basic cable networks or The CW, they definitely couldn't have made many folks at Fox and Empire very happy. The ratings and viewership are notably down from the previous episode.
The previous episode was the midseason finale, which aired back on December 5. It scored a 1.5 rating in the key demo and attracted 5.04 million viewers. The ratings represent a drop of 13% in the demographic and overall audience from the December 5 episode, which ended on a crazy cliffhanger that one would have expected to hang on to viewers, or perhaps even attract new ones.
The numbers are also a 35% drop in the ratings and 29% drop in viewership from the spring premiere of Season 4 back in 2018. The Season 5 spring premiere won the second-smallest audience and second-worst rating in the history of the show. The numbers weren't this low since Halloween in 2018, which holds the record for the smallest audience and demo rating. Did Jussie Smollett's arrest tank Empire's ratings?
Honestly, it's impossible to say. The numbers that have been calculated so far are disappointing, but there's a chance that they could rise significantly once post-live viewership can be tallied. Ratings and viewership after three days and seven days might be less dire. There's also the point that Empire's spring premiere wasn't the most hyped episode of television to hit the airwaves this midseason. Who knows? Maybe viewers just aren't loving the mystery of who dies, and the cliffhanger therefore fell flat.
There are just too many variables to say for sure that Jussie Smollett's arrest and all the negative buzz surrounding it resulted in the unfortunate ratings. That said, the odds are pretty good that at least some of the folks who didn't tune in had their decision impacted by Jussie Smollett's real life situation.
The actor, who plays Jamal, reported that he was attacked back at the end of January, and the case was being investigated as a hate crime. Rumors soon began to circulate, however, that Jussie Smollett had staged the attack as part of an effort to win a higher salary. Fox stood by Smollett for a while, but he was eventually removed from the final two episodes of Season 5, which had not yet been completed at the time of his arrest.
For those who didn't catch the spring premiere, it did present a potential way for Empire to write out Jamal, if the decision is made to fire Jussie Smollett. Rumors of a recast have not been confirmed, and it's entirely possible that Jamal would make his exit at the same time as Smollett. We'll have to wait and see what happens in the coming weeks.
If you're so inclined to watch, new episodes of Empire air Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.