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'Empire': What happened in season 2 premiere. Can it remain a hit?

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(Read caption) 'Empire' stars Taraji P. Henson (l.) and Marisa Tomei (r.).

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The Fox smash hit “Empire” has returned for a second season. 

“Empire” centers on a family and the entertainment company that they are a part of. At the beginning of the show, patriarch Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), who founded Empire Entertainment, believed he was gravely ill and tries to decide to which of his children he should leave the company. Meanwhile, his ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) has plans of her own.

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The program co-stars Jussie Smollett, Trai Byers, and Bryshere Y. Gray.

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What will happen in the show’s second season? Showrunner Ilene Chaiken said in a recent interview that the Lyon family is still battling one another in the new episodes. “If season one of ‘Empire’ was about who will inherit the throne, season two is warring kingdoms,” Chaiken said.

There will be more installments this year, with 18 episodes ordered by Fox for the second season as opposed to the 12 of the first season, and guest stars are rapper Ludacris, Kelly Rowland, Vivica A. Fox, rapper Pitbull, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, Alicia Keys, “Trainwreck” actress Marisa Tomei and Chris Rock. 

The season two premiere shows Lucious in prison following his murder of Cookie’s cousin Bunkie. And trouble was already happening with the other family members: son Jamal (Smollett) convinced Tomei’s character, Mimi Whiteman, to work with him and Lucious rather than Cookie and told Cookie, his brothers Hakeem (Gray) and Andre (Byers), and his sister-in-law Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) to leave the house. 

Chaiken said Hakeem will be one of the characters in the spotlight this season. “He has a huge arc in this season, and a huge evolution,” Chaiken said. “It's a real growth story. It's a story of a boy becoming a man.” 

Jamal is not happy with his position at Empire Entertainment and wants to focus on his music, Chaiken said. “The second he gets the opportunity, Jamal will bust out of his corporate chains because Jamal is an artist at heart and he is really suffering under the burden of responsibility,” she said.

As for what is currently keeping viewers coming back (the season two premiere of “Empire” reportedly had the highest ratings of the night), executive producer Danny Strong said, “I think that there’s a universal quality to the story of a family at war with itself over money and power and I think we’ve got really great soap opera turns that are grounded with a gritty family drama tackling social issues. Then, you’ve got the musical element of these great songs.” 

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“Empire” debuted this previous January and aired 12 episodes, an unusually small number for a broadcast program. (The hit NBC drama “The Blacklist,” by contrast, aired 22 in its most recent season.) The show became a ratings smash. While some broadcast programs can get great ratings for a premiere and then have ratings drop off later on, “Empire” grew week by week. “Empire” was the second-most-watched show of the year in the 18-to-49 year old demographic, behind only NBC's “Sunday Night Football.” It was the fifth-most-watched show in terms of total viewers, ahead of such hits as ABC's “Dancing With the Stars” and CBS's “Madam Secretary.”

With its 12 episodes, “Empire” is closer to a cable or streaming drama than the usual network fare – the HBO hit “Game of Thrones” airs 10 episodes per season, for example. And the fast-moving plot of the first season episodes echoed the successful dramas over on another network – the ABC dramas created or produced by Shonda Rhimes such as “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” These shows have also become big hits for their network.

With more episodes this season, there is of course more air time to fill with story. It will be interesting to see whether those behind "Empire" will be able to maintain the same creative standards.