If you are not already hooked, there’s still time. For the first time in over 20 years, a TV show has accumulated more viewers with each new episode. That show is Fox’s smash hit, Empire. Originally described by the Washington Post simply as “a new show about hip-hop,” Empire only had a predicted 1.8 pre-launch rating for the 18-to-49 demographic. It has become much more since then, with its March 4th episode hitting a rating of 5.8. By comparison, The Big Bang Theory had a 4.8 rating that week. Empire’s pilot is still receiving 100,000 views every day on Hulu and Fox Now. Stars like Spike Lee are expressing interest in an opportunity to be a part of the decade’s hottest show. The question arises: Is there a formula for Empire’s rapid success?
From guest stars, including Naomi Campbell and Snoop Dogg, to producers, Empire features the industry’s top talents. Co-created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, and with Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley as executive music producer, the show manages to be a strong combination of political, musical, soapy, and most importantly -- riveting. Oscar-nominees Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, who previously worked together in Hustle & Flow (2005), play brilliantly opposite each other as father and mother of three sons, who are vying to be the future head of Empire Entertainment.
Limited commercial interruption and compelling promos are not the only thing Empire has been relying on for its ad campaign. The show has used Twitter heavily to gather a huge amount of tweets about each week’s episode. With around 750,000 tweets last week, Empire doubled Scandal’s number of tweets. Viewers are encouraged to watch past episodes online, and Fox is beginning Empire’s Emmy campaign.
Fox partnered with Columbia Records so that each episode’s music is released after airing. Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Gray, who play the two musically talented sons, have a very strong background in music and have also been signed by Columbia Records. The Original Soundtrack from Season 1 of Empire features the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Courtney Love, and Mary J. Blige. With Timbaland producing originals for the show, it comes as no surprise that one of the show’s songs, “Conqueror”, went straight to No. 1 on iTunes’ hip-hop/rap chart. Columbia has announced over one million downloads for the show’s songs.
In addition to having an all-star cast and hit musical numbers, Empire has writing and episodic structures that leave audience members wanting more. The show also challenges norms. Daniels said to Out Magazine, “The audience that is important for this show can’t afford HBO. I’m talking about people that are impoverished, or people that haven’t come out of their communities, or haven’t left their blocks or their cities, and haven’t seen the world. Oftentimes, a lot of these people are homophobic, I feel.”
Empire tackles homophobia in the contentious and abusive relationship between Lucious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard, and his middle son, Jamal, played be Jussie Smollett. Smollett, speaking about his personal life, recently announced on The Ellen Degeneres Show “There’s never been a closet that I’ve been in. I don’t own a closet. I got a dresser, but I don’t have a closet. I have a home, and it is my responsibility to protect that home."
With talent, timing, cause, and strong advertising, Empire has hit a perfect winning streak for success that may remain unrivaled for another 20 years. One of Lee Daniels’ next hopes is to introduce Oprah as a character in Season 2 -- to which Oprah responds, “'Lee, it's not enough that you've taken every viewer possible on Wednesday night. Now you want me to leave my own network?”
Empire’s Season Finale is this Wednesday, March 18th.