Cape Town – FOX has renewed the American drama series Empire for a 6th season but without the show's embattled actor Jussie Smollett.
It comes after Smollett was suspended and absent from a few of the 5th season's episodes due to a court battle after he allegedly staged a hate crime attack in Chicago, with the prosecutor who decided to throw the case out.
Jussie made international headlines when he was the victim of a physical assault which he claimed was homophobic, racially, and politically motivated but in a surprise twist was then accused of hiring the two Nigerian men to attack him.
He was indicted for filing false statements but in another surprise, the criminal charges were dropped in March. The city of Chicago has however filed a lawsuit again him to recover the cost of the police investigation.
The studio producing Empire, 20th Century Fox TV and FOX say in a statement that "By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett's option for season 6, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to Empire."
This means that Jussie can return but that the story for the 6th season will no longer include the character or the actor.
Last week the principal ensemble cast headed up by Taraji P. Henson (Cookie) and Terrence Howard (Lucious) published an open letter, addressed to Fox executives, pleading that the actor be kept on the show.
"Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire," they said, calling him "honest" and "filled with integrity".
Jussie's representatives issued a separate statement saying: "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. Most importantly he is grateful to Fox and Empire leadership, cast, crew and fans for their unwavering support."
Michael Thorn, Fox entertainment president, in the statement announcing Empire's 6th season renewal, says Empire "continues to break barriers with its emotionally powerful storytelling, and it remains a core part of the Fox legacy".
"We want to thank everyone on the show all of whom have done a tremendous job this season. We know there are so many more stories to tell, and we can't wait to see what they have in store for season 6."