How can Fox build on the momentum of TV’s biggest hits in years? The network executives spoke for the first time on Monday about its plan for “Empire’s” return and how it hopes to grow the show’s already huge viewership.
Despite reports that “Empire” wouldn’t return until the midseason, Fox isn’t letting that much time pass before capitalising on its success. The drama from creator Lee Daniels (“The Butler”) and Danny Strong (“The Hunger Games”) will return this fall. It will also air in the very same time slot it held during the spring.
“Fans made ‘Empire’ an appointment on Wednesday nights all season long. We’d be crazy to move it and we want to thank and reward our fans by keeping it in that time period,” Fox’s co-CEO and co-chairman Gary Newman said on a press call Monday.
It will also expand to 18 episodes, split into fall and spring seasons with no repeats. Season 1 had just 12 episodes.
“The stories we’ve heard for Season 2 already is just going to blow away the audience,” Newman promised.
Of course, many shows have breakout first seasons and then lost their audiences during the wait for their return. Fox knows this all to well with Kevin Bacon drama “The Following,” which it just canceled.
That’s one reason Fox executives admitted that they started working on “a bridge plan” while the first season was still airing and it saw the audience grow, but knew there could be a long gap between seasons.
“The requests for this cast are so numerous, we’re trying to make it so that they can be out there and still get a little bit of rest prior to an enormous production season with all new music,” co-CEO and co-chairman Dana Walden said.
So, how is Fox trying to keep “Empire” thriving during the wait for Season 2?
1. All 12 episodes available On-Demand, Hulu and other platforms, so that new audiences can “catch up.” Fox chief operating office Joe Earley said they’re already seeing record numbers for viewing on these platforms, but the network is not planning to air repeats.
2. The cast is making appearances. The show’s young stars Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Grey, who play Jamal and Hakeem respectively, have been touring and performing music from the show. Breakout star Taraji P. Henson, who plays mother Cookie, hosted “Saturday Night Live” in April and will appear with co-star Terrence Howard, who plays patriarch Lucious, on Spike TV hit “Lip Sync Battle.”
3. Season 2 has “amazing guest stars” who Fox hopes will help to bring in new viewers. Season 1 guest stars included Jennifer Hudson, Rita Ora, Patti LaBelle, Raven Symone, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Estelle.
4. Fox hopes Rapper Ne-Yo, who has joined the next season as a music producer on Timbaland’s team, will bring in new viewers. Ne-Yo will write new original music for the series.
At the same time, Fox is not looking a gift horse in the mouth. “Empire” is the only show in a decade to improve on its ratings each week. The first season averaged a 5.09 with Adults aged 18-49, the demographic advertisers most covet, and 13 million viewers.
“We don’t want to be greedy,” Walden added. “If we came back with the audience that we left off with, we would be thrilled. Based on the creative that we saw from producers the week before last, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”
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