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“The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us. Jussie has been an important member of our Empire family for the past five years and we care about him deeply,” reads a statement from executive producers Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer. “While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out. We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of Jamal from the final two episodes of the season.”
The decision comes a day after Smollett was arrested in Chicago and charged with falsifying a police report. He posted $100,000 bail and returned to the Fox series’ set there after his court appearance.
Chicago police say Smollett orchestrated a “publicity stunt” in which he hired two brothers to stage an assault in the early hours of Jan. 29 because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” on Empire. The incident and subsequent investigation have drawn continuous news coverage; Smollett maintains he’s innocent.
Sources told The Hollywood Reporter Smollett hadn’t previously expressed any dissatisfaction about his salary; he makes upwards of $125,000 per episode on the series, putting him in the second of three tiers of cast salaries. Following Empire‘s runaway early success, Fox and producer 20th Century Fox TV renegotiated the cast’s deals between seasons two and three.
Multiple sources told THR that in the current TV climate, Smollett’s current salary is in the upper echelons for an actor with his experience on a successful show.
Empire is currently filming the penultimate episode of its fifth season. The series returns to Fox March 13 for the second half of its season.
The network has yet to make a decision on the show’s future, but it’s considered a pretty safe bet for renewal. Empire is Fox’s No. 2 drama (behind 911) and No. 3 show overall in adults 18-49.
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