Last night, Fox hosted a special pilot screening of its highly anticipated new show “Empire,” which was co-created by director Lee Daniels and his partner in crime Danny Strong and features an original soundtrack by Timbaland.
Strong and Daniels last collaborated on the beloved historical drama “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” The intimate event, held at The Crosby Hotel, was the first official screening of the show, which premieres in January 2015. Before the viewing, guests mingled and snacked on a wide array of candy. We spotted Kenny Leon, Jeremy Piven, Grace Hightower, Robert De Niro and Julian Schnabel, to name a few. From the show Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Lee Daniels, Danny Strong and Executive Producers Francie Calfo (President of Imagine TV) and Ilene Chaiken were in attendance. The show is also executive produced by Brian Grazer.
“Empire” tells the story of Lucious Lyon who is a legendary hip-hip artist and the CEO of Empire Records. After he learns he has a terminal illness, he decides it is time to pass his company on to one of his sons: Andre, Jamal or Hakeem (played respectively by Trai Byers, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray aka Yazz The Greatest). This transition isn’t going to be easy as only one son can take the reigns of the empire. To complicate matters, Lyon’s ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) has just been released from prison after 17 years and she wants to be compensated for her role in Empire’s success.
Danny and Lee made a brief introduction before the screening. Danny said “Empire” is essentially a mix of “King Lear” and “The Lion In Winter” set in a hip-hop empire. He initially pitched the idea to Lee as a film, but then Lee called him the next day and declared “I’ve got an even better idea, let’s do it as a TV show … Do you want to be rich?”
On his relationship with Danny, Daniels told us at the reception, “We understand each other, you know what I mean? It’s hard to find someone that you connect with spiritually and we just know each other. I finish his sentences and he finishes mine.” On why “Empire,” was the right project for him Daniels explained, “I wanted to do a musical. Danny knew it.” Music is a character in all of Daniels’ films, so it’s no surprise that he enlisted the help of one of the most legendary producers in the game – Timbaland – for the show. Timbaland’s signature musical stylings are present throughout the show and the music is dope. “God, genius, everything, partnership” are a few words Daniels used to describe Timbaland. On working with Taraji and Terrence, Lee said, “They are just so magical … you can’t get this stuff out of people that you’re not friends with, you’ve got to be friends with them, they’ve got to be down for you, ride or die, and they are.”
So does “Empire” live up to the hype? Definitely! We can’t wait to see what happens next.