Fox has officially renewed Empire for a sixth season, although the network says it currently has “no plans” to bring Jussie Smollett’s character Jamal Lyon back.
“By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for season six, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to Empire,” Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television said in a statement to TVLine Tuesday.
An insider told the publication the decision to extend Smollett’s contract and “pay him for a full season’s work,” leaves execs with the option to have the actor return if they decide to use him in future episodes. It’s unclear if Smollett will be paid his full salary.
A spokesperson for the actor said he is “grateful to Fox.”
“We’ve been told that Jussie will not be on Empire in the beginning of the season but he appreciates they have extended his contract to keep Jamal’s future open. Most importantly he is grateful to Fox and Empire leadership, cast, crew and fans for their unwavering support,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
These latest developments come after the actor was removed from the remaining two episodes of the current season, following his alleged attack earlier this year in Chicago.
On Jan. 29, Smollett told Chicago police officers he was assaulted by two masked men as they shouted racist and homophobic slurs. Police later said the actor paid brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo to stage the attack. Smollett was charged with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report, but prosecutors dropped the charges in March. The city of Chicago is currently suing the actor for $130,000 to recover the costs of police overtime.
In a television interview on Wednesday, April 24, Empire co-creator Lee Daniels said the show’s creative team was facing a “dilemma” over Smollett’s future, partly because of the increased costs to insure the actor amid Chicago’s lawsuit.
Later that day, the show’s cast wrote a letter to Fox execs urging them to bring Smollett back for Season 6.
“Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire,” the letter read.
Last week’s installment of the Fox drama featured Jamal and Kai (Toby Onwumere) tie the knot in TV’s first gay, black wedding.