The season finale of “Empire,” FOX’s sensational hip-hop/”King Lear” mash-up, drew 17.6 million viewers in its second hour last night, making it the most-watched episode of any network drama since 2009, reports Vulture’s West Coast editor and tireless Nielsen analyst Joe Adalian. And Hulu has scored exclusive streaming rights to “all current and future episodes” of the freshman smash.
The success of “Empire,” along with ABC’s Thursday-night lineup of Shonda Rhimes-produced hits “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” reminds that broadcast series featuring a diverse array of characters can achieve the status of cultural phenomenon.
In its debut season, “Empire” achieved the unprecedented feat of improving in the ratings each week (no other series since 1991 has managed more than four consecutive weeks of growth), and a more detailed breakdown of last night’s numbers indicates that audiences are indeed voting with their remotes. Among the lucrative demographic of women 18-34, for instance, the “Empire” finale earned a 7.6 rating and a “stunning” 27 share, per Adalian, who also notes that the top-rated episodes of “Empire” have drawn a larger share of black audiences under 50 than even this year’s Super Bowl telecast.
Creator Lee Daniels’ sexy, salacious melodrama, which follows the Lyon family’s internecine struggle for control of Empire Records, is the best evidence yet to support ABC entertainment president David Lee’s comments, at January’s gathering of the Television Critics Association, that “‘least objectionable television’ is dead,” and the Hulu deal positions FOX to win over new fans during the series’ hiatus.
With the second season already in the works—as Daniels told The Hollywood Reporter, Spike Lee has reached out about directing an episode, and a guest spot for Oprah Winfrey is not out of the question—it appears increasingly likely that FOX will make “Empire” the centerpiece of its fall schedule. Smart move: so far, the obsession with TV’s latest “Dynasty” knows no bounds.