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The Real Reason Empire Ended

Empire, the saga of the Lyon family and their hip hop label, ended in 2020 after six seasons blazing a trail as part musical, part soap opera and part Shakespearean drama. From the time the show introduced the cunning record mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), his charismatic ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), and their sons Andre (Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett), and Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), the audience was entranced. Sadly, its captivating run ended before the sixth season was even properly finished. Among other things, this meant that Lucious and Cookie's ultimate fates were left unresolved — particularly frustrating because the show had been teasing that both characters' deaths might have been looming in the not-too-distant future.

Sure, shows have ended in awkward ways before, but they have usually been allowed to bring at least some closure to their plotlines. What in the world could have put such an abrupt end to Empire and its seemingly bottomless bag of twists and turns? Did the actors or showrunners want out? Did the network pull the plug? Or were there other, stranger forces at play? Let's take a look at the real reason Empire ended.

The pandemic forced Empire to end early

The makers of Empire knew well in advance that the sixth season would be the show's last. As Entertainment Weekly tells us, however, the novel coronavirus badly messed up with the show's plans for a proper grand finale. Like so many other productions, Empire was forced to rather unceremoniously shut down — which, in turn, led to a strange situation where the final season only had 18 episodes instead of the intended 20. 

As TVLine notes, the 18th episode was thus forced to serve as a series finale that was hurriedly padded with some footage from the unfinished penultimate episode. This meant that some of the storylines, such as the flash-forward deaths of Cookie and Lucious, could never be addressed, and things that should have been extremely impactful, such as the death of Yana (Kiandra Richardson), received much less attention than they deserved.   

Internal troubles and the corporate end of Empire

According to Variety, one turning point for Empire seems to have happened during season 5, which coincided with Jussie Smollett facing accusations of having staged a hate crime in Chicago. Production sources say that while the cast supported the actor and believed that Smollett was innocent, the predominantly white production crew felt that Smollett had indeed faked the attack against him. Smollett's criminal charges were eventually dropped, but unfortunately, the show ended up doing the same to his character. Jamal Lyon was written off the show for the tail end of the fifth season, and co-creator Lee Daniels eventually confirmed that he wouldn't return for the sixth season, either.

Around this time, Fox also decided that the end of Empire was near. Just two weeks after renewing the show for season 6, they announced that it would be the last. However, while the Smollett drama certainly signaled a change for the show, it allegedly didn't have much to do with the decision to end it. According to The Hollywood ReporterEmpire was a victim of a corporate "realingment" that left Fox without major studio connections as 20th Century Fox TV was reorganized under Disney.  

Is there a future for Empire?

And that's it for Empire... or is it? In an interview with TV Guide, showrunner Brett Mahoney revealed that he still harbors aspirations to put together the series finale proper at some point in the future. At the moment, though, it's anyone's guess as to if or when that will happen. 

However, there's also another rumor floating around, and it's one that could prove much more interesting in the long run. There has been some talk about a spin-off series, and while Mahoney says that he probably won't be involved, there's no reason why someone else can't pick up the baton. "I think the creators are talking about it and the network," he said about the possibility of a return to the world of Empire from a different angle. As to which characters the new show would center on, that's obviously still very much in the air. Pretty much any member of the Lyon family is obviously a possibility. Apart from them, Mahoney named a personal favorite and an admittedly interesting potential candidate: "I've always wanted to see what Bossy would look like if it was spun off, in a way. I just think that could be timely, just in terms of where we are, to have a female-run company in the entertainment world and what that would look like." 

Empire might be gone, but its legacy will live on — and some of its characters might even grace our screens again at some point down the line. Here's hoping that will happen.