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“Empire”: TV Show Overview Report


Ever since television first became popular, it also started to be recognized as a powerful resource for influencing people. In particular, television can be characterized as one of the mass consumer products that, due to its incredibly ubiquitous nature, have to stay flexible in order to fit the needs of its highly fragmented audience. Throughout every day of the week, many different kinds of programs are aired on TV.

Each of such programs has a particular primary purpose. For example, advertisements are meant to persuade the viewers, news programs are expected to inform, and TV shows and movies – to entertain (Vivian, 2014). However, television programs are known to produce complex and multifaceted effects on their audiences. For example, misrepresentation of certain population groups on news programs, reality shows, or in films may communicate a wrong message to the viewers, thus promoting flawed values and could harm the misrepresented communities.

As a result, applying media literacy for the purpose of analysis of a certain TV program, one needs to review the selected item from a variety of angles. The goal of this paper is to explore “Empire,” a popular TV show, and identify its meaning as well as the impact it produces. In particular, the analysis will be comprised of the introduction of the selected show, the examination of its background, and the impressions it makes on critics, the industry that produces the show, the social context that accompanies the show, and its audience.

“Empire”: TV Show Overview

“Empire” first aired on Fox in 2015. Its creators – Lee Daniels and Danny Strong – are a powerful team that has multiple outstanding works on their portfolios (Goodman, 2015). Having joined their efforts, the two professionals managed to produce a vibrant and authentic nighttime soap opera about the hidden sides of the music industry. The story revolves around one family that was broken when the mother was put in jail for seventeen years after committing a crime that provided the initial funding for the father’s musical career and practically created the basis of his music company called Empire Entertainment.

Getting ready to take his business to a new level with the help of an IPO, Lucious, the CEO and the man of the family, finds out that he is terminally ill. As a result, he intends to choose an heir for his business out of his three sons. Of them, the eldest one is a highly educated and sophisticated married businessman whom his father deems unsuitable since, according to his vision, Empire should be run by a musician. The second son is a talented singer and songwriter, but Lucious sees him as ultimately flawed as he is a closeted gay man who, as believed by his father, would ruin the company’s reputation.

Consequently, the youngest son, an eighteen-year-old rebellious, and free-spirited rapper, seems to be the most suitable candidate. Naturally, a complex form of rivalry occurs between the three sons as each of them believes that he could become a successful leader of the Empire. In the middle of this conflict, their mother, Cookie, is released from jail and also lashes out after her portion of the Empire (Goodman, 2015). Due to its multiple plotlines and interesting characters, the show is quite captivating and attractive.

Interestingly, one of its creators, Lee Daniels, mentioned that his intention was to create what he called “black Dynasty” (Goodman, 2015). This reference could mean that the show is anticipated not only to become memorable and lasting but also to offer intense drama with unexpected plot twists. According to the opinions of reviewers, “Empire” started out as a flashy and bold, but quite a predictable show that “feels more like an opening act than a marquee player” and still needs to find its unique style and groove (Lowry, 2015, para. 7).

However, knowing that since its pilot episode that was reviewed by most critics, the show has been going on for four seasons, it is safe to admit that the creators of “Empire” managed to find a niche for the show and keep its audience satisfied, interested, and asking for more.

In fact, this soap opera is now recognized as “the hit series” and “the most valuable show on broadcast TV” (Berg, 2017, para. 2). Currently, the audience of “Empire” includes as many as fifteen to seventeen million viewers, a number that has been growing rapidly since the premiere (O’Connell, 2015). One of its most well-developed and captivating plotlines is the relationship between Jamal, the middle son, and his father Luscious. The conflict between the two characters revolves around the sexual orientation of Jamal, which Luscious could never accept.

This storyline is remotely based on the biography of the show’s creator Lee Daniels who is openly gay and had faced multiple dangers and challenges in life because of his homosexuality (Goodman, 2015). Overall, at present, “Empire” seems to be at the peak of its popularity as its audience is large and growing, and its plot continues to develop, introducing more intriguing stories. The success of this show could be attributed to the team of professionals working on it. The team includes outstanding actors and actresses such as Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard, well-known creators, and a famous producer and songwriter, Timbaland, as a supervisor and author of all the songs featured on the show.


In terms of industry, the show under discussion runs on broadcast TV and is aired on Fox network specifically. Several production companies are involved in the creation of “Empire.” In particular, as creators, Lee Daniels and Danny Strong engaged their production companies – Lee Daniels Entertainment and Danny Strong Productions – in work on this show. Moreover, Little Chicken Inc. and 20th Century Fox Television are two more companies that contribute to the production of “Empire.”

Finally, the major company that invests in the show is Imagine Television. The latter company is known for producing such well-known films as “8 Mile”, “The Da Vinci Code,” “The Beautiful Mind,” and “Apollo 13”, to name a few. The company originated from Imagine Film Entertainment Inc. that was founded over three decades ago (“Company overview of imagining entertainment LLC,” 2017). The title of the company was changed at the beginning of the 1990s.

The main story of “Empire” is not based on any shows of movies filmed in the previous years. It is an independent and quite unique scenario that was developed specifically for the purpose of launching a strongly performing show on broadcast television. At the same time, critical of “Empire,” as well as its characters and creators, often mention that the plotlines of this show were inspired by Shakespearean drama “King Lear” (Goodman, 2015; Lowry, 2015).

In particular, in this drama, an elderly king, who is willing to step down, decides to pass his position to one of his three daughters. In order to choose the right heiress, the king puts the young women through a test to be able to identify which daughter is the most suitable. The main story of the Empire features three sons instead of daughters who also need to compete with one another for the purpose of proving worthy of the “throne” of their father’s empire.

Moreover, having run for four seasons successfully, “Empire” begins to cross-over with “Star,” another musical drama aired on Fox. “Star” and “Empire” share one of their creators – Lee Daniels. It is likely that the cross-over of the two shows is done for the purposes of promotion, which is accomplished by featuring some characters from the less popular “Star” on the well-established “Empire.” However, it is currently unknown whether or not the two shows will cross-over again in the future.

Social Context

When it comes to social context, “Empire” is known to be discussed frequently. This is the case due to a variety of factors and characteristics of this musical drama. First of all, “Empire” is one of the shows that feature a cast comprised of actors and actresses of color, the majority of whom are of African American descent. Moreover, the storylines of this show portray various situations and problems that black population living in the United States commonly faces on a regular basis.

At the same time, regardless of the clear orientation on the African American realities and stories, the creators managed to preserve diversity in the show and avoid portraying the black community as a homogenous group of people sharing the same lifestyle, background, and history. To be more precise, the main storyline of “Empire” presents a rich and powerful mogul Lucious, a CEO of Empire Entertainment, who built his career coming up from the very bottom of the social ladder as he started out as a drug dealer and a single father, after his wife was put in jail.

Apart from his sons raised in a very wealthy family, the show features people with low and average levels of income, criminals and honest hard workers, dedicated friends and partners, as well as coldblooded liars, people with excellent education and without any of it. In that way, the show manages to depict and explore a wide range of social issues as it portrays characters of different sexual orientations, genders, age, religions, financial and social positions, and health status.

Furthermore, “Empire” reflects some of the social context that accompanied its appearance on TV. In particular, as a show with a very strong orientation towards African American community, during its first couple of seasons, “Empire” frequently mentioned Barak Obama who was President at the time. To be more precise, Luscious is portrayed as having a close friendship is Obama as they speak on the phone in several episodes including the one when Hakeem, the youngest son of Luscious gets drunk and publically insults President making a video where he calls Obama “a sellout”.

This way, the show explores the powerful support Obama had in the black community of the United States, as well as the controversial opinions about the accomplishments he made throughout his presidency. Moreover, in the first season, a topic of religious differences in the African American community is raised. Specifically, Cookie and Luscious discuss what they call “the nation”, referring to the portion of the community that practices Islam. Luscious is portrayed as having a strictly negative attitude towards “the nation”. However, it looks like both him and Cookie come from the Muslim community as two of their sons have Muslim names.

This theme reflects the common incidence of discussions concerning Islam and a number of extremely negative phenomena with which it is associated. Some of such associations are driven by frequent terrorist attacks planned and accomplished by Islamic terrorist organizations, the increasing influence of ISIS, and the aggravation of military conflicts in the Middle East where the United States was one of the participants. Practically, this aspect of the social context has been present as a source of stereotypes and conflicts ever since the events of 9/11 that caused the rates of Islamophobia in the United States to skyrocket.

One of the most powerful social context messages communicated by “Empire” was about the readiness of the diverse American society to embrace predominantly minority shows. In fact, this readiness was known to be in place even since the massive popularity of “The Cosby Show” back in the 1980s (Adalian, 2015). However, for some reason, creators had been nervous and cautious about such shows and stayed on the safe side making shows with majorly white casts. The ability of “Empire” to attract large audience was a sign of non-discrimination tendency when it comes to quality television (Adalian, 2015).

At the same time, the show has been a source of social controversies as many critics and reviewers made disapproving statements in regard to “Empire”. In particular, the drama was called a collection of diminishing black stereotypes, a “hood” show, and accused of glorifying gangsters and drug dealers (Deggans, 2015). Practically, many people noticed that the themes included in this show presented the music industry as bordering with criminal world and, basically, functioning as a dirty business where authority is earned and preserved through murder, threats, and blackmail. Even though the show features a very diverse selection of storylines and an inhomogeneous set of characters, criminal activities continue to be present as one of the most typical and common attributes of “Empire”.


As it was mentioned previously, the audience of “Empire” is very large and includes up to seventeen million viewers. Moreover, as the musical drama features a cast comprised of people of color mainly, it has attracted a very diverse audience. Specifically, the portion of viewers of color is as large as sixty-two percent (O’Connell, 2015). Moreover, the show attracts a base of viewers that is very diverse in raged to age as well. The series is watched by teenagers, as well as adults in their fifties.

At first, knowing the minority orientation of the drama, it is possible to think that “Empire” targets a niche audience that is rather small and can be characterized by several specific features. However, one of the unique aspects of the show is that its target audience can be recognized as both broad and niche. While depicting an African American family surrounded by African American friends, partners, and co-workers, the TV show seems to operate in a predominantly black world. Logically, there may arise an assumption that I would be primarily attractive to African American viewers.

However, the themes and issues presented on “Empire” are very diverse, thus helping its creators to engage the characters in a multitude of captivating and intriguing scenarios that attract viewers of all social groups and backgrounds. Moreover, the interest towards this how is boosted by the heavy presence of wealth and glamour – the themes that have been serving as powerful magnets for the audience ever since mass media first appeared. The combination of these features is what makes “Empire” the immensely popular and successful show that it is today.


Television is an influential medium that can accomplish a variety of goals. As a result, versatile programs are aired every day attempting to attract viewers based on their interests and needs. Entertainment programs such as TV series are created with an intention to attract broad and diverse audience or small and specific segments. This paper was focused on the analysis of “Empire”, one of the most popular TV shows in the United States.

The show features a set of family conflicts that revolve around a massively successful hip-hop music company. Based on its focus on family matters, an environment of wealth and glamour, and cunning and clever intrigues, this show is frequently compared to the most famous series of the 80s such as “Dallas” and “Dynasty”. “Empire” is a musical drama that introduces many diverse characters showing that its orientation towards a predominantly African American cast does not limit the show but makes it brighter, bolder, and more unique. Moreover, it is created and produced by a powerful team of professionals including film makers, as well as musicians. It is no wonder that the end result turned out to be so interesting and hugely successful.


Adalian, J. (2015). . Vulture. Web.

Berg, M. (2017). . Forbes. Web.

Company overview of imagine entertainment LLC. (2017). Web.

Deggans, E. (2015). NPR. Web.

Goodman, T. (2015). . The Hollywood Reporter. Web.

Lowry, B. (2015). . Variety. Web.

O’Connell, M. (2015). ‘. The Hollywood Reporter. Web.

Vivian, J. (2014). Media of mass communication (11th ed.). Essex, UK: Pearson.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '"Empire": TV Show Overview'. 30 October.

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