“I think that there is going to be a spinoff from Empire, without question.” You read that right. There will be an Empire spin-off of Fox’s hottest new drama, according to the co-creator himself, Lee Daniels. This was just one of the juicy tidbits that he, along with star Taraji P. Henson, revealed during Fox television’s summer press tour. “I think that there’s so much ripe story.” Lee continued. “We’ve talked about it in the writers’ room already, about Cookie’s family, what makes her her, Lucious’s family, what makes them them.”
Season 2 of Empire will premier on the network on September 23, jumping from 12 episodes to 18. There will be 10 episodes before a hiatus. It will then return with eight to round out what’s shaping up to be a juicy second season. According to Daniels, this move to beef up the amount of episodes will slow the pace of the saucy drama but initially terrified him.
“I was a little nervous in the beginning because of the actors,” he says. “It’s really hard to turn out that type of work. They’re not horses. So I was really concerned about the actors and the writers. But I think that Fox has put a schedule together that’s really made me less terrified.”
Empire has been a ratings powerhouse for Fox. Aside from being a smash hit, it also broke records. It’s being touted as the first drama with a predominately Black cast to be renewed for a second season. It’s also the only primetime broadcast series to grow in total viewers over each of its first five telecasts in at least 23 years (since Nielsen began measuring that metric in September 1991). With that type of momentum, Lee and the producers have a formula on how they want to approach season 2, and that’s by just telling the plain old truth.
“All we want to do is continue to do Empire, which is: to tell the truth, to tell the story of this family, this Black family that is relatable to all Americans of all colors, and do music in the most honest way that we can.”
One of the most honest characters on the show, one who tells it like it is every chance she gets, is Cookie Lyons—played by the Emmy nominated Taraji P. Henson. (More on her Emmy nod and the show’s lack thereof in a minute.) But according to Henson, all her scenes so far this season have either made her laugh, cry or gasp.
“I’m like, ‘Do you really want me to say that?’ I just think in order for us to challenge the audience we have to be challenged. We have to be challenged with taking a risk, of telling the truth. Primetime network television has been so safe for so long, and I think that’s why Empire has had an impact on society, because it’s almost like the cable formula. We’re just using the words. We can’t say certain words, but Cookie can say it with a look that you know what she means. So I’m just always blown away by the stories they come up with. It’s always challenging me as an artist to tell the truth and not be afraid of it.”
About those Emmy nods. Henson received an Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Cookie Lyons. But outside of two costume design nominations the show received, the drama itself and its other lead, Terrence Howard, were what some called snubbed. When the nominations were announced, Daniels had some choice words that he shared via social media. But according to him, it was all just jokes.
“In regards to the social media, I think people take things out of context. If you follow me on social media, you’ll get my sense of humor. You’ll get a sense of who it is that I am. I think that que sera sera, you know? It is what it is. It’s all good. We got three; we got Taraji and we got two wardrobe, costume. So I’m excited for them.”
Emmy nominations be dammed, Empire has proved to be good TV. Not only are the storylines dripping with drama, the guest appearances have been star-studded. Season 2 will feature Chris Rock, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Alicia Keys, Kelly Rowland and Marisa Tomei. Lee also confirmed that Mariah Carey will definitely be making an appearance. But he also warns that celebrity guest stars will not be his main focus going forward.
“I think that it’s so funny that when you start a television show, and I was new to this, you don’t really know what you’re doing. And so you think that you can get your friends together. And I found out that the more celebrities, the more stars I put on this show, the more it takes away from the [Lyons] family. The family, the family, the family is the most important thing. I gotta stick to the family. The family is what the show is about.”
One way or another, the show has remained in the headlines leading up to next month’s premiere, whether it’s from the stars themselves or from people looking for a little shine. Empire’s most recent headline-grabbing moment comes from a woman claiming to be the real-life Cookie Lyons! Sophia Eggleston filed a suit against Lee Daniels for $300 million. When asked about it, Daniels had two words.
Crystal Shaw King is a seasoned TV, radio and online entertainment writer. She's also a contributing editor for a social justice foundation in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @crystalamberbam.