This Is Why Empire Ended Early

There haven't been a lot of shows on TV that feature a star-studded cast, engaging plotlines, and regular musical sequences in every episode; Fox's Empire was really one-of-a-kind. The record-breaking musical drama series premiered in 2015 and grossed nearly 10 million viewers from its first episode. People wanted to tune in to follow the chaotic lives of the Lyon family.

The show centered on Lucious Lyon (played by Terrence Howard), who was a drug dealer turned hip-hop mogul and CEO of record label, Empire Entertainment. After hearing of his own looming death due to health concerns, Lucious had to choose a predecessor for his musical empire (pun intended). While attempting to choose a future leader between his three sons — his CFO Andre (Trai Byers), R&B singer-songwriter Jamal (Jussie Smollett), and rapper Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) — the family dealt with competition, backstabbing, music sales, and deceit.

The show had six successful seasons, but came to an abrupt halt prior to its highly anticipated finale in early April 2020. Many fans weren't expecting the cancellation and wondered if they'll ever get the closure they wanted.

Season 6 was already supposed to be 'Empire's last season

Empire is, as The Guardian called it, a "King-Lear-esque nighttime soap" opera that followed the wins and losses of the musically inclined, dysfunctional Lyon family. Headed by Lucious and Cookie Lyon (played by Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, respectively), the family and record label business still had a few more decisions to deal with before the Season 6 finale.

In May 2019, TV Guide reported that co-creator Lee Daniels announced Season 6 would be the last of the hit show. The announcement followed a dramatic separation between Lucious and Cookie that was sure to set up a shocking Season 6 that'd keep viewers' eyes glued to their TVs.

"I think they're both looking at it like yes, they love each other, but does that mean that they should be together?" showrunner Brett Mahoney told TV Guide of the couple. "They may be separate for a bit and if they come back together, it's gonna be a matter of eyes wide open, versus what happened this time around when they jumped into a relationship without necessarily thinking about what it was actually gonna take to stay together."

'Empire' ended earlier than expected due to coronavirus, but there's still hope

Similar to many show productions, the empire that was Empire came to a screeching halt after its 18th episode due to the coronavirus outbreak.

"We're so proud of this show and of everything this incredible cast — led by Taraji [P.Henson] and Terrence [Howard] — and crew accomplished over six seasons," said co-creator Danny Strong in April 2020, per Entertainment Weekly. "The episode airing on April 21 was never meant to be the series finale, but due to current events it will likely be the last one our fans will see for a while."

Deadline reported that the scenes from the promotion video for the 19th episode were weaved into the 18th episode to create more of a solid conclusion. Co-creator Lee Daniels said he was heartbroken by the sudden end, since the crew didn't get to shoot the finale they wanted, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

However, there may still be hope for a consolation prize in the future. "I think there's more to do with these characters, and I'm heartbroken we aren't getting to shoot the finale we wanted — at least not yet," said Daniels. "But you know what they say in television? Stay tuned! To the Empire!"

Here's how the 'Empire' cast has been keeping busy

With Empire officially canceled, the show's main actors have already moved on to other opportunities. In April 2020, Taraji P. Henson launched a social media campaign and free "virtual therapy" services for Black Americans who are struggling while being quarantined due to the coronavirus.

"This campaign is for under-served communities experiencing life-changing events related to, or triggered by, the Covid-19 pandemic," Henson said in the Instagram video post, "In the African American community, we've been taught to tough it out, hide our suffering, but this is something none of us have ever experienced, and no one should suffer in silence."

Meanwhile, Terrence Howard wrapped two movies — Triumph and Cut Throat City — and is currently filming SELFIE, per his IMDb profile. The Constantine Paraskevopoulos-directed and written film was described as "a PG13 action comedy that embodies MEAN GIRLS in a Tarantino tone targeting the centennial market that will encapsulate and define the pop culture of our decade, with the feel of Ryan Murphy's Scream Queens."

Now, fans will just have to stay tuned to see what the rest of the cast does next — and whether that includes a return to Empire, like co-creator Lee Daniels teased.