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'Empire' returns from hiatus with Jussie Smollett's character front and center

Tracy Swartz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

CHICAGO -- "Empire" returned from its winter hiatus Wednesday with Jussie Smollett's character taking part in much of the action.

Musician Jamal Lyon, played by Smollett, appeared in more than a half-dozen scenes in Wednesday's hourlong episode, including a singing performance in front of high school students and a piano performance to close out the episode.

The episode was filmed before Smollett reported that he was attacked by two men who yelled racial and gay slurs and beat him while he walked to his apartment in the Streeterville neighborhood at about 2 a.m. on Jan. 29. Smollett, who is black and openly gay, has since been accused of staging the attack.

A grand jury last week indicted Smollett on 16 counts of disorderly conduct. The 36-year-old actor, who is free on $100,000 bond, and his representatives insist that he did not lie to police or fake a hate crime.

Smollett appeared Tuesday in Cook County criminal court, where the presiding judge decided to allow cameras at Smollett's Thursday court appearance. Smollett was expected to formally enter a plea of not guilty to the charges Thursday.

In the meantime, the Fox network -- which produces and airs "Empire" -- has not announced if the musical drama will be renewed for a sixth season. A Fox representative told the Tribune this week that a decision still hasn't been made and pointed out that networks typically don't renew series until late spring and sometimes not until just before their presentations to advertisers in mid-May.

Fox representatives did announce that Smollett won't appear in the final two episodes of this season "to avoid further disruption on set." The series, which premiered in 2015, is headquartered at the Cinespace Chicago Film Studios on the West Side and films around town.

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Crews are scheduled to film this week in the Illinois Medical District neighborhood, according to information posted in the city's film permit database. Filming on the current season may wrap next week.

Season 5 of "Empire" airs at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central Wednesdays.

(c)2019 Chicago Tribune

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