With its endless family drama, infectious music and revolving door of famous Hollywood faces, Empire has captured TV lovers worldwide to become one of Fox's most-successful television debuts ever!
But in pop culture writer Robert Ham’s new tell-all book about the hit show, some of the series' biggest secrets are revealed, shining new light on the development of Empire, the real-life inspirations behind its characters and all that went into the show's monster takeover of the small screen. And OKMagazine.com has gathered all of the book's standout revelations about Empire as well deets on the behind-the-scenes drama that pushed the series to the top!
Empire had pretty humble beginnings, with actor and screenwriter Danny Strong first thinking up the initial idea for the show while driving around Los Angeles, California, Ham reveals in his book, Empire: The Unauthorized Untold Story. “I heard a news story about Puffy, and I just thought, ‘Hip-hop is so cool. That’s what I should do next, something in hip-hop,’” Strong said in an interview with the podcast The Business.
He then brought in his good friend Lee Daniels to assist him in bringing the story to life, with Ham saying that Daniels was the person responsible for deciding that the idea for Empire should be turned into a TV series instead of a movie!
With its over-the-top conflicts and storylines, it should come as no surprise that Strong and Daniels incorporated the elements of dramatic 1980s soap operas like Dynasty into their writing for Empire. Ham says that the duo was extremely nervous about the way the project would be accepted by viewers once they had completed writing the pilot episode! But they stuck with their plan for the TV show, landing a deal with the production company Imagine Entertainment, placement in Fox’s winter 2014 lineup after a heated bidding battle among a few networks and eventually a series premiere date of Jan. 7, 2015!
In a pitch meeting for Imagine Entertainment, Ham says that Strong described Empire’s tale as that of a modern-day King Lear in the world of hip-hop.
However, Ham identifies several real-life icons and figures in the entertainment industry that Strong and Daniels likely pulled inspiration from for the show’s roster of main characters!
Empire Enterprises Founder and CEO, Lucious Lyon -- who is played by Terrence Howard -- is likely a mixture of some of hip-hop’s biggest moguls! Ham names Jay Z and P Diddy as possible inspirations. And Daniels even admitted to the Philadelphia Inquirer that Lucious is a mashup of “men I’ve respected over the years, from Berry Gordy to Gamble and Huff to Jay Z to Puffy to Quincy Jones.”
Taraji P. Henson’s was certainly the breakout star of the show’s first season, with her fierce character Cookie Lyon enthralling viewers with her wit, slick words and fearless attitude! Ham reveals that Daniels actually based much of Cookie on the women in his own life, specifically his cousin who named the character after! But Lil Kim and Sylvia Robinson are still listed by Ham as possible music industry inspirations for Cookie.
Lucious and Cookie’s oldest son, Andre Lyon, has been said to be inspired by troubled hip-hop entrepreneur Damon “Dame” Dash, who was once the business partner and friend of Jay Z. Fans of the show immediately made a connection between Dash and Andre -- who is played by actor Trai Byers -- and Ham says it is pretty clear that the character was pulled from the now struggling industry vet.
Fans of Empire were also very quick to draw comparisons between Lucious and Cookie’s second-oldest son, Jamal Lyon, and singer and songwriter Frank Ocean. Ham says there are similarities between the singer and Jamal, who is played by Jussie Smollett. But Daniels himself claimed that the trials Jamal faces in the show as a gay man came from his own life encounters, including the scene where Jamal was dropped in a trash can by his father, Lucious!
And then there is Hakeem Lyon, the often bratty and extremely spoiled youngster of the Lyon family. The budding rapper -- who is played by Bryshere Gray -- is often believed to be inspired by Diggy Simmons. However, Ham claims that we should be looking toward another famous rapper and reality TV star for the character’s most accurate doppelganger -- Kylie Jenner’s boyfriend, Tyga!
But there has been more to Empire’s whirlwind journey to TV success than light-hearted dissections of the show’s plot and characters! Amid the excitement of the series' history-making debut season, there came talk that tension was growing among the show’s cast as Season 1 came to a close and filming started for Season 2.
According to reports, Henson and Howard, began to take more control over the set and script writing process, leaving many of their castmates frustrated with their diminished lines and screen time. “They call for re-writes if they don't like the lines or feel as though another character is getting more camera time than they are,” a source told DailyMail.com. “They both have final approval over the script, which often frustrates the other actors because it causes their lines to regularly change.”
There was even talk that Henson and Grace Gealey, who plays Henson’s on-screen nemesis Anika Calhoun, were having drama behind the scenes as well.
And actor Malik Yoba spoke out a few times after the season wrapped about his disappointment in having to leave the show after his character, Vernon Turner, was killed off in the Season 1 finale. However, the stars of the show have continued to knock the feuding talk, and they appeared to be in good spirits as they completed their Season 2 press runs ahead of the show’s Sept. 23 premiere!
But the drama didn’t stop with the rumors about the cast's feuds following the show’s first season! Fox was also hit with a lawsuit over the show after the network received demand letters from San Francisco-based Empire Distribution Inc. The label requested that Fox change the show’s name, pay $8 million or pay the label $5 million and guarantee that the label’s artists be included on the show’s upcoming second season as “regular guest stars,” reported The Hollywood Reporter. But Fox in turn sued the record label to try to get permission for the network to use the title Empire for the show! What do you think will happen on Empire during the show’s second season? Tweet us @OKMagazine or let us know in the comments section below.