As Fox renewed Empire for a sixth season, they also renegotiated an extension to Smollett’s contract option. However, in a statement about the “mutual agreement,” the network and producer 20th Century Fox TV added that “at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to Empire.”
Smollett was infamously written out of the last two episodes of the hit show’s fifth season amidst his growing legal drama. After claiming he was the victim of a racially charged assault, he was charged with 16 felonies for filing a false police report when investigators determined he’d faked the incident. In a shocking twist, the prosecutors ended up dropping all charges.
Jamal, the character Smollett played since the Empire pilot, was given a happy send off before being removed from the rest of season five; he married Kai (Toby Onwumere) and left for his honeymoon.
Though the contractual option remains, it seems Jamal will stay on vacation for the time being. “We’ve been told Jussie will not be on Empire in the beginning of the season but he appreciates they have extended his contract to keep Jamal’s future open,” a rep for Smollett told The Hollywood Reporter. “Most importantly he is grateful to Fox and Empire leadership, cast, crew and fans for their unwavering support.”
Indeed, the cast has supported Smollett, even petitioning to bring him back to the show. In a letter to the producers and network executives, his castmates said,
“We must stand together as a family. A family is there for us in good times and bad. It can cut through the noise and confusion to understand that there is a person in the center of all this who deserves nothing more than to move forward with his life. We understand that this show is a business. And that business matters to us as well. We are confident our fans will welcome our ‘Jamal’ back into the Empire family as enthusiastically as we will.”
So what exactly is Fox doing giving Smollett a contract extension if they don’t plan on using him? It’s possible they’re awaiting the results of a lawsuit the City of Chicago filed against the actor seeking $130,000 to reimburse the cost of the investigation. If that case goes to trial, prosecutors will need to prove Smollett falsified claims of the attack in order to hold him responsible for the expenses. Perhaps Fox is waiting to see if he’s found innocent before putting him in front of the camera again.
The odd thing is that by simply extending his contract, they now have to pay him. Wonder if he got that raise he was supposedly after.