"Empire" Makes Fox History, Makes Diversity What TV Networks Crave

Empire has really shown TV networks what a show with a black main cast can do. The series, states IndieWire, has made Fox history, become the first show in 22 years to increase ratings and viewership for the network. In fact, each week, it tops itself in the ratings, quickly becoming this TV season’s juggernaut.

As the LA Times writes, a lot of the success comes from word of mouth, Twitter engagement (such as live-tweeting) and a stellar cast. But what’s also at the heart of its success is the support it has from its huge black audience, which makes up almost two-thirds of its viewership.

“[The Success of these shows] says that black people watch TV,” wrote Lee Daniels, the co-creator of the show, in an email to the LA Times. “Not only watching, but we are coming out in droves to watch. We also go to the movies adn to the theater, especially if we can identify with the subject matter and the people that we see.”

Empire is the leader among a litany of black-led shows on TV now, such as ScandalHow to Get Away with MurderSleepy Hollow, and black-ish. Even more shows featuring the black perspective are coming to television, such as American Crime, written by 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley, The Book of Negroes, based on a real story, and an Underground Railroad miniseries based on the book Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad and executive produced by Stevie Wonder.

Other shows featuring diversity are also either airing or are on the way, such as Brooklyn-Nine-Nine, the upcoming Fresh Off the Boat—the first Asian-American sitcom in about 20 years— and Tut, starring Avan Jogia as the boy king among a highly diverse cast.

Diversity was beginning to be a buzzword once Sleepy Hollow had its runaway success in its first season, prompting FOX COO Joe Earley to declare diversity the best business model if a network wants to retain and grow their viewing audience. Now, though, that model has been cemented as a money-maker thanks to the astounding success of Empire. 

Diversity should have been the model from the beginning, seeing how many more minorities watch television than they are represented in characters on the screen. But there’s always been the idea that the majority—white people—wouldn’t understand the viewpoint of the minority.

However, the new “diversity-is-money” business model reflects a societal change in America. White Americans used to be the vast majority. But, they are quickly taking our spot. It’s been predicted that by 2043, White Americans will be the minority. That’s only 29 years away, which isn’t much. It’s probably for the best that America begins reflecting its diversity now.

Also, many Americans learn more about their world from television. It would behoove networks who want to attract viewers to actually show different families, viewpoints, and cultures in their programming. It’ll not only raise their bottom line, but it’ll help educate their viewers on the fact that not everyone thinks, looks or acts the same (and that that’s okay).

In short, let’s all thank Empire for driving the point home that diversity is needed in television. Let’s also thank the other shows and viewers that have helped Empire achieve its success.

Photo credit: Chuck Hodes