Empire Showrunner Confirms the Show Will Undergo 'Somewhat of a Reset' Without Jussie Smollett

Illustration for article titled Empire Showrunner Confirms the Show Will Undergo 'Somewhat of a Reset' Without Jussie Smollett
Photo: Kevin Winter (Getty Images)

Looks like the Lyons done got a hold of a neuralyzer from Men In Black. Well, somewhat.


April ended with official news regarding Jussie Smollett’s role in Fox’s Empire, which had been picked up for a sixth season. Long story short — fans weren’t going to see anymore of the falsetto feline known as Jamal Lyon.

Smollett’s acting career was left in shambles after he alleged that he was the victim of a homophobic and racist attack. Chicago police charged and accused him of faking the story, but those charges against him have since been dropped.

Naturally, this rollercoaster affected his stint on the equally soap-operatic Fox TV show. Showrunner Brett Mahoney talked to Variety about the struggles in writing off the major character, as well as what the cast and crew must prepare for in the upcoming season.

“We have such a terrific ensemble that when first you’re told you have to take one chess piece out, it’s ‘What the hell am I going to do?’ But then it opens up space and room to tell the other important stories that you want to tell. So there are pluses and minuses,” Mahoney explained. “There was definitely stuff I wanted to do with Jamal in [Episodes] 17 and 18 that I just had to express a different way, but it did open up the focus a little bit more on the Andre storyline.”

During Smollett’s case, it was announced in February that he would not be appearing in the final two episodes of Season 5. Smollett’s Jamal had a notable season, including his marriage to Kai (Toby Onwumere), and their wedding made history as the first gay black wedding aired on television. The season ended with multiple members of the Lyon family in a state of disarray, and of course, Jamal’s absence had to have been noticeable to viewers.


“Had the wedding episode hit in a different place, it would have been much, much, much more difficult,” Mahoney explained. “Right before we were headed into production of [Episode] 17 was when the decision was made to take the character out of the last two episodes, but luckily, it was almost a completion of the Jamal arc in [Episode] 16. There were elements I wanted to express in [Episodes] 17, 18, and I had to take those out, but it was lucky in the sense that it happened [then], so the wedding was a natural way to move on — to send him on his honeymoon.”

As for moving forward, Mahoney confirmed that while he hasn’t gathered with the show writers yet to break the story (i.e. the writers room process of breaking down or outlining the story before the script is written), there will be an “adjustment” required for the new season.


“Season 6 will have to be somewhat of a reset, and we’re going to find some exciting, bombastic way in,” Mahoney noted. “And we may discover that it takes more than just blood to be a Lyon, and we might see some other characters step up and step into the fold.”

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.


So Jamal’s going up in his room like Chuck Cunningham, Judy Winslow, DeVante Swing’s solo career...etc.