A still from 'Empire.' (20th Century Fox Television/File)
The next season of “Empire” will be its last, Fox said Monday, bringing an end to the network’s most-talked-about hit in recent years and marking the start of a new era for the No. 4 US broadcaster.
Fox announced the cancellation on the eve of its annual presentation for advertisers, the first since parent Fox Corp. sold its film and TV studios to Walt Disney Co. Networks use the presentations, called upfronts, to sell advertisers on their upcoming program schedules, locking in billions of advertising ahead of the new TV season.
Fox is looking to lift the ratings of its entertainment programming after a couple of years of looking up at the competition. The network is last among the Big Four networks in total viewers, and just one show, the singing competition “The Masked Singer,” ranks among the top 25 shows with the 18-to-49-year-old demographic that advertisers target.
“Today marks a new beginning for Fox Entertainment,” programming chief Charlie Collier said in a statement announcing the network’s new schedule. Collier is chief executive officer of Fox Entertainment, responsible for picking new shows.
Outside of sports, where Fox placed its biggest bets, “Empire” was a rare bright spot and a central part of the network’s pitch since the show’s debut in 2015. Viewership grew each week during that first season, peaking at more than 17 million for the first-year finale. It was a top entertainment program in the 18-to-49-year-old group at the time.
But interest in the show’s dynastic African-American family and its record company has waned. “Empire” failed to make the top 60 most-watched programs on TV this past season, according to Nielsen data. The show got a burst of negative publicity this year when one actor, Jussie Smollett, was accused of pretending to be the victim of a fake hate crime. He maintained his innocence and the charges were dropped. Fox has no plans to bring him back for the final season.
Collier rejects claims that the new Fox is further subordinating its entertainment business to sports programming, like the popular “Thursday Night Football.” He ordered 10 new shows, including a comedy starring Kim Cattrall and a crime drama produced by Greg Berlanti, the prolific producer of shows for the CW network.
But the new Fox network will rely more on live sports -- the one type of programming that has sustained viewership in recent years. In prime time, Fox will air NFL football on Thursday nights in the fall and wrestling throughout the year. With a schedule that runs from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., the network already broadcasts one fewer hour of prime-time programming per night than its other three competitors.