Hit US series Empire finds a UK home on E4

It's time to face the music as Fox's hip hop drama is snapped up by Channel 4's digital channel...

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It’s one of this year’s biggest television hits over in the US, and now musical drama Empire has finally found a new home in the UK. Starring Oscar nominee Terrence Howard and created by Lee Daniels (The Butler) and Danny Strong (The Hunger Games), the series is hip hop’s answer to Nashville, as music mogul Lucious Lyon plans to hand over his company Empire Entertainment to one of his three sons.

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The American series will air on E4 later this spring following its successful debut in the US in January. Here’s everything you need to know:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfADCCd1LCI

So, what’s it all about?

Empire Entertainment is at a crossroads. Criminal-turned-hip hop artist and business mogul Lucious Lyon has been diagnosed with a debilitating illness, and has decided to hand over his empire to one of his three sons.

Bit King Lear, right? 

Of course. Shakespeare’s play even gets a name check in the opening episode to ram the parallels home. Like King Lear, the dad’s favourite is the youngest: rapper and playboy Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray). The middle child Jamal (Jussie Smollett) is a talent in his own right, but he’s also gay, and that’s an issue for Lucious.

As for the eldest? Andre (Trai Byers) is as smart as they come, an Ivy League-educated businessman. But the music isn’t strong with this one, not to mention the fact that his father thinks he is “not black enough” to run the company.

So, options are limited?

Well, not exactly. To make things even more complicated, Lucious’s ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) has been let out of jail early and is back to stake her claim to Empire (it was her crime 17 years ago that provided the cash to start the company).

If she’s to win back her place at the seat of power, she’ll have to convince her estranged sons that she’s a valuable ally in the ensuing power struggle.

What about the music?

Producer Timbaland was responsible for creating the original soundtrack, a Billboard chart topper in the US. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5v1DfH6AVPs

Like country music drama Nashville, the music comes as a package with the drama – no Glee-style shunts into musical theatre here.

Generally the music has been well-received, even if Rolling Stone claimed that “most of the songs wouldn’t even cut it on a second-rate mix-tape.”

So, is it any good?

It’s certainly popular, with the season finale scoring 23 million viewers in the US, the best performance for a new drama since Grey’s Anatomy.

Early reviewers enjoyed the music soap opera style too. The New York Times called it “Dynasty in the age of hip-hop”, while The Hollywood Reporter pointed out that, “the music, which is absolutely essential to the series and might have been its make-or-break element, is expertly overseen by Timbaland, who acts as both musical director and songwriter.”

Will anyone watch it here?

Nothing E4 has bought in recently has been able to match The Big Bang Theory (which regularly tops a million) in terms of viewers or popular interest, with imported dramas earning mixed performances for the digital channel. Almost three quarters of a million watched the first episode of new US drama Revenge in 2012, but this year’s season three opener had slipped to just over 300,000.

In fact, barring a strong opening from sci-fi series The 100, you have to go back to 2011 for the best comparison, when Glee was pulling in up to 2.5 million before it was bought by Sky1. 

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Thankfully, we won’t have to wait long to find out if E4’s new musical drama can reach Glee’s dizzy heights when it debuts later this spring.