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Everybody Is Still Watching ‘Empire’


Coherence at a breakneck pace may be hard to maintain — Empire’s scattershot second season has shown us as much. But one thing Empire can maintain? Near unheard-of ratings. A week after its second-season finale, the numbers are in: According to Variety, The Taraji P. Henson Show retained 95 percent of its first-season audience, enough to comfortably put its per-episode average north of 20 million viewers. It’s the top-rated broadcast entertainment (read: not football or Game of Thrones) show among adults 18–49, and the top-rated show, period, among African American viewers in the same demographic, more than three times as popular as runner-up Scandal.

There are plenty more numbers to dissect here — in the era of Peak TV, gauging shows’ popularity increasingly requires the statistics obsession and sheer geekery of a hardcore baseball fan — but the gist is simple enough: Empire is still a juggernaut. Both its novelty and its critical acclaim may have faded somewhat, but Lee Daniels’s Shakespearean tragedy/Timbaland B-side generator/soap hip-hopera has more than enough fans to make up for both. One notable number, per Variety: the more than 375,000 live tweets the show racks up per episode. It’s a staggering figure, and all the more impressive given that almost half of Empire’s viewership watches after the fact, whether it’s via DVR or Hulu.

And those numbers make sense, because Empire remains one of the few series offering what almost no one else, Shonda Rhimes excluded, is selling. Network TV’s diversity has improved somewhat over the last couple of years, in no small part thanks to Empire. Still, the demand for shows that have both shameless entertainment value and a cast that looks like a more photogenic version of the real world’s population remains much higher than the supply. Empire may have more pacing issues and ill-planned twists than Cookie Lyon has animal-print clothes, but its record-breaking success doesn’t show much sign of slowing, either.