Fox renews 'Empire' without Jussie Smollett's character

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. television network Fox on Tuesday renewed drama series “Empire” for a sixth season but said there were no plans to bring back the character played by Jussie Smollett, the actor who said he was the victim of a hate crime in January.

FILE PHOTO: Actor Jussie Smollett makes a court appearance at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 14, 2019. E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Chicago police accused Smollett of making up an attack against him, but the actor maintained his innocence and prosecutors dismissed criminal charges against him.

Smollett played gay singer-songwriter Jamal Lyon on the show about a family in the hip-hop entertainment business. Fox did leave a door open to possibly bring Smollett back by extending an option on his contract.

“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,’” according to a statement from 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment.

“Empire” airs on the Fox broadcast network, a unit of Fox Corp. The series is produced by the Fox television studio, which was recently sold to Walt Disney Co.

A spokesperson for Smollett said in a statement that the actor was “grateful to Fox and ‘Empire’ leadership, cast, crew and fans for their unwavering support.”

“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,” the spokesperson said.

Smollett, 36, who is black and gay, ignited a firestorm by telling police on Jan. 29 that two apparent supporters of President Donald Trump struck him, put a noose around his neck and poured bleach over him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs on a Chicago street.

After weeks of investigation, Chicago police determined that Smollett cooked up the scheme - in which they allege he hired two brothers to pose as his attackers - because he was dissatisfied with his salary on “Empire.”

He was charged in February with staging the incident and filing a false police report, but Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office prosecutors dropped all charges against him in March.

Smollett admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to do community service and give up $10,000 in bond money.

In April, the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit seeking three times the damages it said it incurred in the investigation of the incident.

Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman