On Friday, Fox announced that Jussie Smollett would not appear in either of the final two episodes of Empire, which is completing its 5th season.
This comes one day after police arrested the actor for allegedly staging an assault against himself and claiming that he was the victim of a hate crime.
After an initial court hearing, in which Cook County Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. called the alleged crime despicable, the Chicago police released Smollett on a $100,000 bond. He then returned to the set of Empire to resume filming.
But the producers of the show then issued a statement which said that, while they are waiting for the legal process to complete itself, for the sake of the show and everyone on it, they will avoid any further disruption by removing Smollett’s character from the remaining episodes.
Smollett did not appear on set for Friday’s filming.
In the following days, Chicago Police revealed that more evidence exists against Smollett. “There’s a lot more evidence that hasn’t been presented yet, and does not support the version he gave,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told Good Morning America.
“There’s still a lot of physical evidence, video evidence and testimony that just simply does not support his version of what happened.”
The producers of Empire still have time to decide what to do about Smollett going forward.
If they decide to renew the series, which is not a sure thing, they must do so by mid-May. If they do, they then have until the end of June to decide whether to pick up Smollett’s contract.
Complicating matters further is the fact that The Walt Disney Company will soon take control of 20th Century Fox Television, which produces Empire. So, the decision will be up to them, and they may not want their reputation for family-friendly programming tainted by scandal.
Jussie Smollett plays Jamal Lyon on the show, who is the gay son of a hip-hop mogul. Just a week ago, Danny Strong — who is one of the producers of the show — called Smollett the third lead actor, after Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson.
Empire is set to return on Fox on March 13th, though it’s unclear if Smollett will appear in the 7 episodes that have already been filmed.