Fox’s “Empire” emerged as the biggest broadcast hit of last season by combining a soap opera sensibility with an infectious R&B soundtrack. Co-creator Danny Strong looks back on the drama’s meteoric rise and reveals its secret recipe for success.
What are you most proud of in season one?
The fact that we pulled it off. I had no idea if this show would work or not. The fact that we were able to tell this 12-episode storyline, and keep it at the level we wanted — and people responded so well.
The series showed a willingness to burn through story to keep the twists coming.
It seemed to work, didn’t it? It was always by design from the pilot. I was worried that just (having) music plotlines would not be able to sustain a weekly narrative, so I wanted to have multiple genres — musical, family soap opera, gritty urban drama, a crime plot and a business plot all running at the same time.
What’s your process for integrating music into the show?
The music is really complicated. It’s also a major secret weapon, because every eight or nine minutes, there’s a musical number, and we’re so fortunate that our songs have been so good. … It’s a major part of how we design the episode, where we’re building to multiple musical numbers, and there’s usually one big hero number that takes place later in the episode. The tricky part — and the part that we’ve been successful at — is making the songs develop the character, so that the show doesn’t stop for a song; the story is continuing through song.