LOS ANGELES: At Thursday’s Television Critics Association panel for Empire, the panelists were tight-lipped about Season 2 — though it was announced earlier in the day that Pitbull would make an appearance — but were open about plenty of other things, including the show’s other guest stars and possible future spin-offs.
The small panel consisted of creator Lee Daniels, executive producers Brian Grazer and Ilene Chaiken, and star Taraji P. Henson, who were all visibly excited about the series’ success. “We were all surprised that it did that well,” said Grazer, “We all loved the show and thought the show was great, even when we saw it in pilot form.” Empire was a success straight out of the gate and only kept growing (and it’s still going strong during its hiatus, averaging more than 500,000 weekly online viewers in the past few weeks).
Empire has also been a big success in terms of bringing diversity to the small screen and putting a black family at the front and center of a popular soap opera. But Daniels said that Empire is not strictly “a black experience,” and explained that he just wants to continue to tell the truth and “tell the story of this family — this black family — that is relatable to Americans of all color, through music, in the most honest way that we can.” He also emphasized the notion of the American Dream and reflecting truthful experiences, not necessarily ones that are specific to black experiences.
As for the juicier gossip, the writers aren’t yet sure what Mariah Carey’s role will be — though she has already agreed to appear — but were also quick to emphasize that Empire is not a series about its guest stars. “The more celebrities and stars we put on the show, the more it takes away from the family. If we can dazzle you with a little Denzel, a little Oprah, that’s OK, but I think I got to stick to the family. Family is what the story’s about.”
Other highlights of the panel including Daniels dismissing the Sophia Eggleston lawsuit (which claims that her personality and life story were the basis of Cookie Lyon’s character) with a “Bye Felicia!,” the news that there’s going to be a director’s cut of the pilot episode, and Chaiken maintaining that Empire doesn’t do ripped-from-the-headlines episodes but instead manages to predict music industry stories (the Drake vs. Meek Mill feud and Tidal vs. Spotify were referenced, and versions of both will appear in the second season). “That’s how in the culture Lee and the writers on this show are,” Chaiken said. “They know what’s happening.”
But what everyone came out of the panel buzzing about was Daniels announcing that, “without question,” there will be an Empire spin-off. “There’s so much ripe story that we’ve talked about already,” he continued, specifically referencing Cookie’s backstory — and thus announcing the most-anticipated series in history.
Empire returns Wednesday, September 23. You can watch the trailer below.