‘Empire’ May Rival ‘Nashville’ As New Guilty Pleasure Music-Drama

An extended trailer for Fox’s ambitious new series, Empire, has just been released, and from the looks of it, the show could be giving ABC’s current guilty pleasure music-drama, Nashville, a run for its money. Whereas the latter focuses on the tumultuous lives of country music singers, Empire explores the equally drama-filled world of hip-hop and its key players.

Created by The Butler’s Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, the new music-themed soap opera stars Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon, the head of a prominent hip-hop record label who has recently been diagnosed with a debilitating illness. As the music mogul prepares to pass on his legacy to one of his three sons, his ex-wife (played by Howard’s Hustle and Flow co-star Taraji P. Henson) shows up after her recent stint in prison and demands her share of the empire.

The intense trailer gives viewers a taste of what they can expect from this first season, beginning with the moment Lucious receives his shocking prognosis. As doctors tell him he only has an estimated three years to live, Lucious reflects on his underprivileged beginnings.

“I started selling drugs when I was 9 years old. I did it to feed myself,” the character says in a voiceover. “It was the music that saved my life.” The clip also shows the pivotal scene in which Henson’s character, Cookie, fresh out of jail for crimes we haven’t yet learned about, storms into an important boardroom meeting, demanding half of her company back. Cue the drama.

The upcoming series has been garnering lots of buzz in recent months, and for good reason. The show boasts a top-notch creative team that’s impossible to ignore. Empire marks Daniels’s first foray into television, making him only the latest in a string of acclaimed filmmakers to transition to the small screen.

The Oscar-nominated director (Precious, Monster’s Ball) turned to the people closest to him for inspiration, basing the characters on some of his family members. “We’re making statements about sexuality, the African-American experience, what happens when you come from extreme poverty and hit it big and you’re a billionaire?” he told The Hollywood Reporter of the series, which he described as “a black Dynasty.”

Aside from an A-list director, the show also holds a pretty stellar cast. In addition to his impressive acting career, the Academy Award-nominated Howard has his own personal experience in the music world, having released his own album, Shine Through It, in 2008. Meanwhile, Henderson has her fair share of experience playing gritty female characters who have lived both inside the law (Person of Interest) and outside of it (Hustle and Flow).

The show also features Gabourey Sidibe, who previously worked with Daniels in the title role of Precious, as a series regular. Showrunners recently lined up one particularly interesting recurring guest star in Courtney Love. According to THR, Love has signed on to play the role of hard rocker Elle Dallas, who is part of the musical roster at the record label Lucious and Cookie are fighting over.

Given the nature of the series, the soundtrack is also another particularly significant factor in the show’s success. Multiple singles from Nashville have entered the top 10 on iTunes country music charts, as have the musical compilations from each season. With master producer Timbaland already enlisted to write and create original music for the series, it looks like Empire’s tunes are on track to become equally popular.

Empire premieres in January on Fox.

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