The Fox music drama will be back for another year without a key cast member -- at least in the beginning.
Empire is coming back, but Jussie Smollett's return is less likely.
Fox has renewed the music drama for a sixth season, the network announced Tuesday, but it will likely be without Smollett, whose future on the show remains less clear. While Fox made no mention of Smollett in its announcement, it appears there are "no plans" to bring his character, Jamal Lyon, back at this time.
“By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for season six, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to Empire," Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox TV said in a joint statement to ET.
“We've been told that Jussie will not be on Empire in the beginning of the season but he appreciates they have extended his contract to keep Jamal’s future open," Smollett's personal rep told ET in a statement. "Most importantly he is grateful to Fox and Empire leadership, cast, crew and fans for their unwavering support!”
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.
“Empire continues to break barriers with its emotionally powerful storytelling, and it remains a core part of the Fox legacy,” said Michael Thorn, President of Fox Entertainment in Empire's renewal announcement. “We want to thank everyone on the show -- Taraji [P. Henson], Terrence [Howard] and the entire cast, as well as [executive producers] Lee [Daniels], Danny [Strong], Brett [Mahoney], Sanaa [Hamri], Brian [Grazer], Francie [Calfo], Dennis [Hammer] and their teams -- all of whom have done a tremendous job this season. We know there are so many more stories to tell, and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for season six.”
In last week's Empire, 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. His parents, Lucious (Howard) and Cookie (Henson), walked him down the aisle.
"I can't recite some cookie-cutter vows about love and marriage, because I know in my heart love and marriage is messy, more messy than I wanted to admit before. But that's what makes it real," Jamal said at the altar in one of his final scenes on the show. "Kai, I don't want a fairy tale with you, I want something real. Something that endures, like what our parents have... maybe a little less drama than the Lyons."
"Here's what I can promise. I promise that I will be 30 percent messy if you will too," he continued. "I promise that I forgive you as much as I ask for forgiveness, if you will too. And most importantly, Kai, I'm going to hold you every day and I'm going to be with you and I'm going to love you forever, if you will too."
Smollett's final appearance gave Jamal's story a positive note to end on for the season -- and now, possibly, the series, while pivoting to new drama, with Andre's fate up in the air (again) after his aggressive cancer treatments have weakened him to the point where he may only have weeks to live.
A source told ET that the culmination of Jamal's storyline in last week's episode 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 comes one week 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."
Empire airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.