Empire will end its roller-coaster run on Fox after the upcoming sixth season, the network announced Monday, ahead of its Upfront presentation in the afternoon. The hip-hop drama, led by stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, will return to its original time slot, Tuesdays 9 p.m. ET/PT, when its final run kicks off this fall.
According to Fox, the final season -- described as "epic" -- will be drama-filled, with more "shocking surprises and jaw-dropping moments." The fifth season finale ended on a cliffhanger between Lucious (Howard) and Cookie (Henson) splitting up and questions about where they go from here.
"We're turning the final season of Empire into a large television event. If you look at what we're doing with Empire... we really are trying to go out guns a-blazing," Charlie Collier, CEO of Fox Entertainment, told reporters on a press call Monday morning. "One of the great benefits of announcing a final season is to allow the fans to lean in and to have the ending they deserve, and that's everything we're trying to do with this iconic series. Six years is a pretty remarkable run for a drama series and we feel good about it."
News of the a final season comes just two weeks after Fox renewed Empire for a season six, amid uncertainty over Jussie Smollett's future on the show. At the time of the renewal announcement, there were "no plans" for the actor to return as Jamal Lyon, though Smollett's contract had been extended to keep the option open. Asked about whether that has changed, now that Empire will be ending after the next season, Collier remained mum.
"We're excited to see the show go out with a bang and that's really what we've been focused on and what's been great with all these early season conversations. Lee Daniels and all the writers are really just focused on giving the crescendo it deserves," he said.
Pressed to give a more direct answer to the Smollett situation, Collier echoed what was said back in April: "There is an option [for him to return]. [At] this point, we have no plans for that."
Smollett, who plays the Lyons' middle son, was written out of the final two episodes of season five after he was arrested in February for allegedly filing a false police report in which he claimed he was a victim of a hate crime. All charges against Smollett have since been dropped, though the city of Chicago is seeking reimbursement from the actor to cover over $130,000 in investigatory fees, which Smollett has refused to cover.
Smollett's arc as Jamal was seemingly wrapped up in a nice bow when he said "I do" to his longtime love, journalist Kai (Toby Onwumere), in front of close family and friends in an ornate church wedding, in the third to last episode of season five. His parents, Lucious (Howard) and Cookie (Henson), walked him down the aisle. Jamal's absence was briefly addressed in the finale via a text message he sent to Cookie.
A source told ET that the culmination of Jamal's storyline was a creative priority for Smollett. "This was an episode that Jussie really championed with the writers and a storyline he is proud of," the source said.
News of Smollett's likely end on Empire came after the cast -- led by Howard and Henson -- sent a letter to Fox and Disney urging them to reinstate Smollett for the sixth season.
"I talk to Jussie all the time. He's doing well. We're all doing well. The show is doing well," Henson said during an April appearance on The View, saying at the time that Smollett is still part of the Empire family: "I haven't heard anything else."