The question surrounding Jussie Smollett‘s potential return to Empire for the Fox drama’s series finale this May can now be definitively answered.
“We’re not going to bring Jussie back to the show,” Fox entertainment president Michael Thorn tells TVLine. “There were a number of factors that went into the decision to not bring him back. There were many points of view about if he should come back or if he shouldn’t. As hard as a decision as that was, for us — and when I say us I mean the network, the studio and the producers — it felt like it was in the best interests of the show and the cast.
“Our hope is that all of the controversy surrounding Jussie doesn’t overshadow the show,” adds Thorn, “which we think is bigger than him.
Last month, Empire showrunner Brett Mahoney exclusively revealed to TVLine last month that discussions were underway to possibly have Smollett return as Jamal before the show wraps its six-season run this spring. “It would be weird in my mind to end this family show and this family drama of which he was such a significant part of without seeing him,” he told us, before adding, “It’s fair to say it’s being discussed, but there’s no plan as of yet to bring him back. There’s been no decision made.”
The fact that Empire was even mulling a Smollett comeback represented a bit of a turnaround from last June when series creator Lee Daniels slammed the door shut on the possibility, maintaining via Twitter, “Jussie will NOT be returning to Empire.”
Smollett, who had played Lucious’ musician son Jamal since Empire debuted in 2015, was written out of the final episodes of Season 5 following a headline-grabbing brush with the law. The actor claimed he was beaten up by two men who hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him, and then was accused of fabricating the attack and charged with making a false police report.
The charges were later dropped, but the scandal seemed to end Smollett’s run on Empire. When the show was renewed for sixth and final season last May, the network extended his contract but said there were “no plans” to bring him back. (Smollett’s final Empire episode saw Jamal get married to Kai; the show established early on in Season 6 that the newlyweds are now living full-time in London.)
Empire resumes its final season later this winter and Thorn tells TVLine, “Brett and the producers have a fantastic way to conclude the series that we are really excited about and we think it will be as epic a finish as its [beginning].”