Fox’s ‘Empire’ Keeps Growing: What’s Behind Its Success?

Source: Fox

Source: Fox

Empire continues to be one of the biggest surprise hits of the season. Having just aired its fifth episode, Fox’s new musical drama has yet to see any dip in its already impressive ratings. Instead, it’s actually managed to build on its week-to-week viewership, defying every trend usually seen in a freshman series.

Empire premiered in January to 9.9 million total viewers and a 3.8 rating in the key demo of 18-49, surpassing ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder as the year’s top-rated new show among viewers under 50. That would be considered a solid debut episode by any standards, but even more impressive is what came after. The second installment garnered more than 10 million total viewers and a 4.0 mark – and amazingly, ratings have only continued to go up with every subsequent episode. It’s the first time in at least 20 years since any top-rated drama grew among adults under 50 in its first three weeks on the air — which brings us to this week’s installment, “Dangerous Bonds.”

According to Deadline, Empire’s fifth episode nabbed 11.5 million total viewers and a 4.6 rating. That makes it the second highest-rated drama telecast of the season, behind NBC’s post-Super Bowl airing of The Blacklist. The episode also marks the fourth time since the series premiere that Empire has increased in ratings from the prior week. With the show now up 53% from its American Idol lead-in and still growing, it’s starting to seem as if there’s no end in sight for the hip-hop drama’s winning streak.

So what exactly is behind Fox’s newest hit? The show is one of the earliest entries into TV’s rapidly growing roster of musical dramas and specifically, of hip-hop-themed series. Created by The Butler’s Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, it 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 (Taraji P. Henson) shows up after her recent stint in prison and demands her share of the empire.

The show’s original premise is boosted by its incredibly strong cast. Howard and Henson have previously worked together on 2005’s hip-hop indie drama, Hustle and Flow, and they continue to make just as formidable a team on the small screen. Henson, in particular, has earned rave reviews for her portrayal of Cookie. With her ridiculously over-the-top outfits, scathing one-liners, and enough attitude for 10 television shows, the character is unquestionably one of the greatest and most memorable to ever appear on TV.

Also adding to its appeal? The show has enlisted master producer Timbaland to write and create original music for the series, some of which is later made available for purchase on iTunes.

Between the plot, the music, and the incredible cast, the show is delivering all the elements necessary to make it a  hit across varied demographics. It’s splashy and in-your-face, but also addictively fun and sometimes surprisingly poignant, as with the story of Lyon’s son’s coming out.

Should Empire continue to draw strong ratings, it could be set to make a big impact. In terms of genre, the show’s success will likely encourage the development of plenty of other musical dramas in the future. But more importantly, it serves as a prime example of just how much audiences have been craving a variety of cultural representations on their TV screens. With Empire and freshman shows like How to Get Away with Murder and Black-ish becoming the biggest hits of the fall and ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat already off to a strong start, Hollywood may finally get the message that diversity works.

Empire already been renewed by a second season. It airs Wednesdays on Fox.

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