Not so long ago, American Idol was FOX’s rating’s giant but things changed and the show was eventually cancelled. It had been a while since they had anything that drew in that kind of audience until Empire premiered last season.
With great writing, an all-star cast (including Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson) and a steady stream of great guests (Jennifer Hudson, Adele, Courtney Love, etc.), it was easy to see how they were pulling in the big numbers. It was no surprise that the season 2′s debut was massive – it attracted 16.2 million viewers which was a dramatic 81% increase over the pilot episode.
With just 12 episodes in the first season, the number of viewers defied trends and continued to grow by the week. The season finale was watched by a whopping 17.6 million viewers. It was enough to make FOX to increase the number of episodes in the second season but it’s starting to seem like that was premature.
This past week, Empire was preempted by the MLB World Series but, aside from that, viewership is down and continues to decline. It’s still early in the season but there have been drops of seven and eight percent week-to-week with the last aired episode only drawing an audience of 12.2 million.
So what’s happening? Why are fewer people tuning in?
A lazy explanation was given by rapper, 50 Cent, who complained that the new storylines were focusing on “too much gay stuff.” A cursory glance at message boards suggests that there are people who want to see less about the show’s homosexual character, Jamal, but not enough to warrant that kind of dip in ratings.
I personally think that the writers have lost a bit of direction. Maybe they got too excited by the show’s success. Maybe they are feeling the pressure to deliver content that is just as exciting as the first season. Maybe they were doing too much to accommodate the requests for cameos by famous fans of the show. Whatever it is, the writing has suffered.
Take Cookie, for example. Sure, she’s out on her own trying to make her spin-off label work but she seems to have no identity. She appears weak and whiny and, in my opinion, it looks like the normally stellar Henson is struggling to know how to play the part. Since she is often cited as people’s favorite character on the show, it’s easy to assume that viewers are not feeling as connected to Cookie and, therefore, are less interested in what is going on.
Whatever it is, something is off and, if they don’t fix it soon, the show that once held so much promise may be over prematurely. They need to get back to that grit and character-driven dynamic that made the show so intriguing. Let’s hope the second half of the season has a few tricks up its sleeve.