The Jussie Smollett “hoax hate crime” scandal appears to be taking its toll on the show the embattled singer and actor once headlined. After a disappointing midseason premiere, “Empire” reached new all-time series ratings lows this week.
The Wrap, which has been tracking the show’s performance particularly closely since Smollett was charged with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly orchestrating a fake hate crime against himself, reports that the struggling show only managed to draw 4 million viewers and score a 1.1 rating/6 share in the key demo (18-49) this week.
That follows last week’s ominous midseason premiere numbers, which were better than this week’s episode but still significantly worse than the show’s pre-Smollett case perfomance. In its first show back since he was charged and officially fired by the studio, “Empire” earned only a 1.3 demo rating/6 share and 4.412 million total viewers, which was, at the time, the show’s second lowest ratings ever.
As The Wrap noted last week, the midseason premiere results signaled a 35% drop in the demo and a 29% drop in total viewers compared to the same time last year. The total viewers for the first episode back were also about 600,000 viewers fewer (a 13% drop) than the fall finale on December 5.
Not all of the show’s ratings woes are likely the direct result of the Smollett debacle, as the show’s numbers were already trending down, but it appears that all of the national attention on the disturbing story has further eroded enthusiasm for the former hit series.
Smollett was initially charged with one felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a police report, but two weeks ago, a Cook County grand jury dramatically raised the stakes of the case for the actor, returning a 16-count indictment for allegedly lying repeatedly to authorities about a January 29 incident that investigators say they have ample evidence — including from two associates of Smollett who said they helped stage the staged attack — was “orchestrated” by the actor.
In an indictment announced on March 8, the grand jury charged Smollett with eight counts for alleged lies he initially told the officer who responded to his January 29 report and another eight counts for the claims he made to a detective. “Jussie Smollett knew that at the time of this transmission [of the claims] there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed,” the indictment asserts.
The claims authorities say Smollett deliberately lied about include that he was physically assaulted by two Trump supporters, that the supposed attackers threw a chemical substance on him, that they hung a rope around his neck, and that they hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him. Instead, police say, Smollett orchestrated the attack himself because he appears to have been unsatisified with the lack of response to an alleged “hate letter” sent to him a few days earlier. Two associates of Smollett told police that they were the men who staged the fake attack and were captured in surveillance footage. Authorities also say evidence suggests Smollett sent the letter to himself, a claim federal authorities are currently investigating.
Smollett has been released on $100,000 bond and has pleaded not guilty.