ByStephen Patterson, writer at
Verified writer at Movie Pilot. Follow me on twitter: @mr_sjpatterson
Stephen Patterson

When Empire premiered earlier this year nobody could have predicted the success that would come along with it. The show is a ratings hit, it received critical acclaim, the songs are constantly downloaded on iTunes and the show quickly became a global hit. So the question here is, why has Empire been so successful?

I myself had no interest in watching Empire. For me, it was FOX attempting to replace the legendary hit that was Glee once it bowed out earlier this year. I couldn't have been more wrong. I found myself rather ill a few weeks ago and (as I strongly believe the best cure for colds and flus is a good boxset) I went hunting for a new show to watch. I watched How To Get Away With Murder in a matter of days (great show, you should check it out if you haven't already). Afterwards, I decided to give in and I purchased the first season of Empire from iTunes. I binged on Empire - Addictive isn't a good enough word to describe how good the show is.

Empire follows the Lyon family, headed by music mogul Lucious. Upon discovering he has a life-threatening illness, Lucious pits his three sons against each other in competition of his Empire music company. Things don't go to plan when his ex-wife and mother of his children, Cookie Lyon is released from prison. What sets this show apart from other musical dramas that we've seen in the past such as Glee, Smash and Nashville is that Empire focuses on the world of R&B music as well as keeping the plot as realistic as possible. Moreover, the musical sequences further the plot - the music doesn't force the storyline to stop for a performance (e.g Glee's rendition of I Kissed A Girl in the third season). However, while Empire tends to keep the storylines realistic, it can also play about with the story because it is a soap opera. I myself think the broad appeal of Empire lies in the fact that it is a soap opera, reminiscent of Dallas and Dynasty - that type of programming has not been a popular format for several decades now. The family feud has been a stereotypical yet always enjoyable element of classic American soaps, so there is definitely nostalgic value for the older viewers. Each of Lucious' sons all have their own problems and issues, which also makes them relatable to the younger audience. In terms of humour, Taraji P Henson nails it as Cookie, who is currently my favourite character on television. Everytime Cookie is onscreen, Taraji P Henson makes it clear that nobody else could play Cookie. Of course, when looking at success, the ratings tell the story. Empire became the first show in over thirty years to steadily increase in viewership each week, during it's first season run. The pilot episode premiered to an audience of 9.90 million and steadily increased over twelve weeks. The first season finished it's run with an unprecedented 17.62 million viewers. The series creator, Danny Strong has said that Empire is the type of show that you will want to watch as soon as it's on (as opposed to a modern day trend where people watch later on demand or on catch-up services) and he is evidently correct. Empire's viewership is unheard of in this day and age. FOX have also capitalised on this trend as Empire now airs with "limited commercial interruption". I know myself that I hate commercial breaks, which is why I often watch a programme after it's first airing. It's smart of FOX to attract more viewers to the original airing by cutting the commercials.

Another reason for Empire's success, of course, lies in it's music. The soundtracks and albums have been hugely successful. it's worth noting that all the music is original content, produced by Timbaland.

Empire may be for an acquired audience, but it seems that audience (including myself) is loving every minute of it. It will be interesting to see if it's popularity will last throughout the shows second season but I have a sneaky feeling that, like the classic American soap operas, Empire will be on our screens for many years to come.


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