Nearly a year ago, Smollett was canned from the hit drama amid charges that he concocted a wild story about being robbed at gunpoint by two, homophobic men on the streets of Chicago – charges that were later dropped by Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx.
Since then, speculation started growing that Smollett would return in the finale episode, however, Fox entertainment head, Michael Thorn, said that’s not happening, according to TheWrap.
“He will not be coming back,” Thorn said to TheWrap. “As you would expect when you’re finishing an iconic series like Empire, that Brett (Mahoney), as the showrunner, along with his producing partners, would certainly have discussions about what’s the best way to finish the show. In this case, Jussie will not be coming back for the finale.”
Producers wrote Smollett and his character, Jamal Lyon, out of the show at the end of Season 5 as Chicago police built its case around the narrative that Smollett staged his own attack to promote his career. Prior to the start of the final season, the network said there were “no plans” for Smollett to return, however, Mahoney told TheWrap that it would be “weird and particularly challenging to do (the finale) without him.”
Empire, co-created and executive produced by Lee Daniels is currently on a midseason break but will return in the spring to run its final episodes. Producers wrote Smollett out of the show by having Jamal move to Paris.
The series debuted five years ago to powerhouse ratings, becoming an almost instant success. Since that time, however, it has steadily lost viewers each season and ratings have tanked. Having Jamal come back from Paris would certainly boost show ratings but Thorn said it is not something that producers have discussed or are considering.
“I will tell you on all of our shows we always talk about how do you boost ratings and in this marketplace it’s very challenging,” Thorn told TheWrap. “When you’re a pop-culture phenomenon, like Empire was, you burn bright for as long as you can. Unfortunately, when you’re doing 18 episodes a year … some viewer attrition is just unfortunately inevitable. But we think this season has been fantastic. Have we talked about how to goose ratings? Of course. Did we talk about exploiting Jussie’s situation to do so? No.”
Thorn said longtime viewers of Empire are in for a treat when the show closes out.
“What I will tell you is what Brett and Danny and Lee and Imagine (Entertainment) have planned is awesome,” Thorn added in the interview. “And I’m really excited. It’s bittersweet, obviously, for the show to end, but I’m really excited, ’cause I think they have an incredible creative plan for the finale and I hope people come in droves.”