‘Empire’ Ratings Plummet to Series Low Amid Jussie Smollett Scandal

"Empire" premiered on Fox in 2015. (Credit: Fox)

Empire‘s ratings hit a series low Wednesday night, just one week after the show’s rocky mid-season premiere.

The 11th episode of season 5 titled “In Loving Virtue,” scored a 1.1 rating in the advertiser coveted 18-49 demographic and 4 million total viewers. Last week, the Fox drama earned a slightly higher 1.3 rating and 4.4 million viewers, according to Variety.

Wednesday’s stats mark a new slump for the series, which saw it’s second-lowest rated episode in October 2018. That episode, which aired on Halloween, had a 1.2 rating and 4.2 million viewers.

Since it’s January 2015 premiere, the drama has enjoyed solid ratings and mostly positive reviews. The show’s Season 1 finale in March 2015, for example, “drew 21.1 million viewers (8.4/27) making it the highest-rated freshman finale since the first season finale of Grey’s Anatomy” in May 2005, according to Deadline.

Read More: Lee Daniels Reveals ‘Empire’ Cast’s ‘Pain and Anger’ Over Jussie Smollett Case

Empire’s ratings struggle follows the Feb. 21 arrest of actor Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon on the show. Smollett has since been indicted on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct, for allegedly lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack.

The criminal case stems from an incident on Jan. 29, in which the actor told Chicago police officers he was assaulted by two masked men while walking home from a Subway sandwich shop around 2 a.m.

Smollett, who is black and openly gay, said he was beaten, doused with a chemical and had a rope placed around his neck, as the attackers yelled racist and homophobic slurs.

The singer-songwriter pleaded not guilty to the charges on March 14, and his Los Angeles-based attorney, Mark Geragos, called the indictment “vindictive.”

Credit: The Chicago Police Department
Smollett was arrested on Feb. 21. (Credit: The Chicago Police Department)

Read More: ‘Empire’ Ratings Sink in First Episode Since Jussie Smollett Arrest

In light of the controversy involving Smollett, the show’s executive producers decided to cut his character from Season 5’s last two episodes.

“The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us. Jussie has been an important member of our Empire family for the past five years and we care about him deeply,” said Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer in a joint statement released by 20th Century Fox Television.

“While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out,” the statement continued. “We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show, and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season.”

Jussie as Jamal Lyon in “Empire.” (Credit: Fox)

A month after the statement, Lee Daniels took to Instagram to vent about the stressful situation.

“These past couple of weeks have been a freaking roller coaster,” he said in a video posted to Instagram Wednesday night. “Me and my cast have experienced pain and anger and sadness and frustration, and really don’t know how to deal with it you know?”

Empire‘s next episode airs on March 27.

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