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"Empire" was developed by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong who had earlier cemented their partnership as creative developers of movies with "Lee Daniels' The Butler." Daniels and Strong have been the creative forces behind "Empire" throughout its five seasons with season six already commissioned by Fox for release in 2020.
The show began in 2015 with the focus being on the hip hop mogul, Luscious Lyon who has taken on a series of choices over the course of his career to take his record label to success. Luscious is first seen in a recording session with his protege Veronika while waiting for an important doctors appointment. Luscious is under pressure from all sides as he wishes to take his record label, Empire Entertainment onto the stock market for the good of his family.
Luscious has three sons, Jamal, Hakeem, and Andre, two of whom hope to be singers performing with Empire Entertainment. As Luscious is looking to create an entertainment brand he can be proud of, his ex-wife, Cookie is being released from a 17-year prison sentence for drug possession and dealing. Cookie quickly makes her way to Luscious' offices and informs him she wants a share of the company and to be involved in the future of her sons. Cookie leaves Luscious with few options for fighting her as she reminds him she knows the funding for the early days of Empire Entertainment came from drug dealing and other criminal activities.
Luscious finally gets to see his doctor and is told some bad news which will impact his family and the future of Empire Entertainment. Luscious is diagnosed with motor neuron disease which he knows will impact his ability to work in the future and cause him major problems as he plots the future of his company. As he begins to weigh the consequences of his diagnosis, Luscious knows any hint of his illness will negatively affect his ability to make a success of the move onto the stock exchange.
Empire Entertainment is possibly being left in flux if Luscious is unable to keep control and halt the plans of Cookie for taking over his dynasty. Luscious decides his best option is to work with his sons and find the one best equipped to take over the company in the future. Luscious still employs Cookie's cousin, Bunkie who is working as his assistant and is given the job of watching Cookie to make sure she keeps her word and to inform on her activities.
Cookie tells Luscious we will not inform on him to the SEC if he promises to hand over Jamal to her. Luscious is insistent on taking Jamal to her new home and refuses to allow Luscious to keep him, prompting the hip hop mogul to give up his son. Luscious makes many remarks about the sexual orientation of his son, Jamal and states he has never wanted him because he is gay. The first episode brings more problems for Luscious when Bunkie sees an opening he believes will make him rich and stop him needing to work in the future. He demands $3 million from Luscious or he will reveal the truth behind the MND diagnosis of Luscious and the evidence he has heard from Cookie. Luscious must make some difficult decisions and possibly work outside the law if he is to keep control of the company and continue the growth of Empire Entertainment for himself and his family.
Lee Daniels has become one of the leading filmmakers of the 21st-century after finding his early work as a producer of critically-acclaimed dramas, such as "Monster's Ball." After his debut film, Shadowboxer" was shown in competition at various festivals, Daniels was nominated for his first Academy Award for the movie "Precious" in 2009. Since then he teamed with writer Danny Strong to develop the movie, "Lee Daniels The Butler" which won critical acclaim and grossed over $100 million from a $30 million budget.
Danny Strong has had a varied career in the media with his early career taking in a series of acting roles which brought him global attention. He first found fame as Johnathan in "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" before moving on to a recurring role in "Gilmore Girls." After befriending the director, Quentin Tarantino, Strong set out to write a movie for himself to star in and eventually found he was more fulfilled than he was as an actor. Strong would later take on a series of writing roles including the development of "Recount" telling the story of the 2000 U.S. Presidential elections. His first work alongside Lee Daniels was for the movie, "The Butler."
The pivotal role of Luscious is played by Terence Howard who has been acting in major Holywood movies and TV shows since the mid-1990s. After appearing in a number of TV shows, Howard made the leap to become a major star in Hollywood with the movie, "Mr. Holland's Opus." He would later appear in TV shows such as the "Law & Order" franchise and become the highest paid actor in the "Iron man" movie of 2008.
Taraji P. Henson plays Luscious' ex-wife Cookie and makes her second appearance alongside Terence Howard after the pair appeared together in the movie, "Hustle and Flow." Henson has appeared in a number of major movies, including an acclaimed appearance as a single mother in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."
"Empire" is filmed in Chicago as the economic conditions are more favorable than those in New York City. The show was first conceived by Danny Strong, who believed he could create a story close to the themes of "King Lear" by William Shakespeare based around the world of hip hop. Terence Howard was the first actor cast followed by Taraji P. Henson who has been joined by a series of guest performers, including Naomi Campbell and Courtney Love.
The show is broadcast by Fox in the U.S. but had little chance of success when the network declared it a mid-season replacement option. Eventually, a lead-in from "American Idol" led to "Empire" achieving the highest debut by a show on the network for almost a decade. The show has proven a hit in the U.S. with viewers and remained so throughout its fifth season when a series of scandals struck the show, not least the controversy over the assault of actor Jussie Smollett. The commissoned sixth season is reported to be the last as the actors look to take various other roles.
Critically, "Empire" has seen largely positive responses with Rotten Tomatoes giving the first season a rating of 84 percent and Metacritic hitting a rating of 72 percent. The first four seasons all have a Rotten Tomatoes rating in the 80s to state the show is acclaimed by critics. Some controversy was seen in the first season when rapper and actor, 50 Cent stated his belief the show was similar in themes to his own Starz drama, "Power."
"Empire" nearly had a completely different cast with Lee Daniels originally looking at the action star, Wesley Snipes as Luscious before speaking to Taraji P. Henson who stated she would only join the show if Terence Howard played her ex-husband. Despite the success of creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, the pair is not too concerned by the use of different lines by Taraji P. Henson as she has stated many of Cookie's best lines simply come to her when she becomes the character in a scene.