Why does the Empire surprise you?

UNTJ4250- Race, gender and media

During spring break, I took some time to binge-watch Fox’s new drama Empire. The show tells the story of the Lyons family. Cookie and Lucious Lyons hail from the rough streets of Philadelphia where they hustled and sold drugs to support their family while trying to make Lucious a famous musician. When the show opens up we find that Cookie has just finished a 17-year prison sentence and Lusious is about to take his music and entertainment “empire” public.

There are lots of twists and turns in the show. We see issues of infidelity, sexuality (specifically homosexuality in African American culture), drugs, murder, mental disease (again, and its stigma amongst African Americans), paternity, masculinity and of course music (the soundtrack is awesome).

Empire has been a success according to its ratings. It broke Fox’s 23-year record of having its viewership grow every week, something it continued to so until the season finale.

Social media played a role in the show’s success.

There was lots of conversation about why the show was a success and how the show’s success can be replicated by others (NPR, Vulture, The Daily Beast, to bring up a few). I think that these conversations are great. But I’m confused about why people are surprised at the show’s success. It’s not easy to get a television show on the air (see busted pilot), so when any show does well that should be a miracle alone. 

Empire definitely isn’t your traditional network show. It has a crazy plot, it’s a musical, this first season was star-studded (and hopefully it continues to be that way). The show is also colorful. All of the main characters are people of color and your don’t see that everyday in primetime. This does not mean that networks should scramble to find a show with an “ethnic” cast. But if networks can work with award winning producers and creators that aren’t the status quo, then hopefully more shows with a diverse cast will happen naturally and an ethnic cast can be the norm, instead of being an outlier.

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