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Jussie Smollett Indictment Casts Shadow Over ‘Empire’ Season 5 Return

Empire” Season 5 returns on Fox this Wednesday night. The following day, series star Jussie Smollett will be arraigned in Chicago for allegedly staging a hate crime against himself.

The turn of events that left the Hollywood community and “Empire” fans stunned has cast a pall over the midseason premiere and left those at Fox Broadcasting and studio 20th Century Fox Television waiting with bated breath. According to multiple sources, it had been widely expected that “Empire” would be renewed for a sixth season and the show still enjoys support at both the network and studio. That’s not surprising, considering that even in its fifth season it remains one of the highest-rated shows on Fox. Season to date, “Empire” is averaging a 2.3 rating in adults 18-49 in the Nielsen Live+7 numbers, making it the number two scripted show on the network behind only “9-1-1.”

But much hinges on the outcome of Smollett’s current legal predicament. “Empire’s” executive producers announced shortly after Smollett was arrested that his character would be written out of the final two episodes of Season 5. They said this was done so that the show, which is currently in its final week of production on the season, could “avoid further disruption on set.” Many options are on the table regarding Smollett and his character, Jamal Lyon. Sources tell Vt is possible the character could be killed off or the role could be recast.

It also appears that Smollett’s role in the remainder of the season is being downplayed, despite Jamal’s engagement being a major storyline in the first half of Season 5. Except for a midseason recap video released in the beginning of March, none of the promotional clips for the second half of Season 5 released since Smollett’s arrest have prominently featured him, rather offering just fleeting glimpses of Jamal. One Fox insider downplayed this, however, saying that it is common for such clips to focus more heavily on series stars Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard.

Smollett has been indicted on 16 counts of filing a false police report. The actor and musician claimed that he was the victim of an assault in the early morning hours of Jan. 29 in Chicago, stating two men hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him, beat him, poured bleach on him, and placed a rope around his neck. Smollett also said that the two men used the phrase “MAGA country” during the assault, a reference to President Donald Trump and his “Make America Great Again” slogan.

However, investigators now believe Smollett paid two acquaintances — brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo — to help him stage the attack. Police previously arrested the brothers, but they were later released without being charged. They are now cooperating with the investigation.

During a press conference the Chicago PD stated they believed Smollett staged the attack because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” on “Empire.” They also said they believe Smollett had sent a threatening letter to himself that was received at “Empire’s” Chicago production office days before the attack. Smollett and his representatives have repeatedly denied the allegations.

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