Lee Daniels’ ‘Empire’ and Octavia Spencer’s ‘Red Band Society’ Join Fox’s Lineup
Fox, once known for its acerbic wit and innovative, sharp-edged humor (this was, like, back in the early ’90s, when they were the new kids on the block and The Simpsons, Married…With Children, and Roseanne were still shocking), has spent the last decade building a brand concerned with reality TV and American Idol-derived talent shows.
Shows like Hell’s Kitchen and the re-imagined Cosmos have done well for Fox, and old fan favorites The Simpsons and Family Guy continue to garner viewers despite being past their expiration date; 24 is also back, suggesting a certain reluctance, or inability, to think of new ideas on the network’s part. But according to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox has just ordered two new, potentially daring dramas: Lee Daniels’ Empire and a remake of the Spanish drama Red Band Society.
This is Daniels’ first foray into television directing. Daniels’ popularity swelled after his bold if not entirely palatable adaptation of Sapphire’s linguistically unique novel, Push, retitled Precious, earned him an Oscar nomination.
Starring newcomer Gabourey Sidibe as an obese, almost-illiterate young girl who is carrying the child of her abusive rapist father, Precious was dark stuff, though it somehow missed the point of the novel, which explores the deeper meanings and possibilities of language. Mo’Nique won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Precious’s monstrous, terrifying mother: It’s a truly magnificent performance, and it helps to alleviate the nagging feeling of preachiness that pervades the film.
Daniels’ next film, The Paperboy, was loathed by pretty much everyone, though it featured a pre-McConaissance Matthew McConaughey and a dedicated Nicole Kidman peeing on Zac Efron. The Paperboy, a swampy pulp tale of deceit, murder, and lust, bombed at the box office, earning $2.5 million on a nearly $13 million budget, whereas Precious made more than $60 million on a modest budget of $10 million.
The Butler (or, to be proper, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, because he’s a big deal now) got some good reviews and was an early Oscar favorite. It didn’t get any Oscar nominations, though, despite predictions that Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey would get nods. The film is a mess, though it has good — if painfully obvious — intentions. The huge supporting cast features Robin Williams, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, Vanessa Redgrave, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Liev Schreiber, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, and Alan Rickman, though none of them can save the film.
Empire has already received more acclaim than Daniels’ previous efforts. Perhaps the scaling down in size will be good for his sprawling aspirations. The show will be Fox’s second major musical drama, following Glee, though Daniels’ show promises to be darker and more socially conscious. It’s a family drama set in a hip-hop empire and stars Terrence Howard; Sidibe co-stars alongside Jussie Smollett, Malik Yoba, Kaitlin Doubleday, Trai Byers, Grace Gealey, and Tasha Smith. Brian Grazer is producing, and Timbaland is acting as music producer. The pilot received praise and Fox won a multi-network bidding war, so executives there expect good things.
Less is known about Fox’s other new show, Red Band Society. It’s executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, and Sergio Aguero, and stars Octavia Spencer. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the show “is described as a dark dramedy that focuses on the daily lives of a group of teenagers living in a hospital who become unlikely friends. The depth of the unexpected friendships allows them to survive the challenges of growing up under such intense circumstances.”