Empire Renewed for Season 6, Has 'No Plans' for Jussie Smollett's Character to Return to Show
Empire audiences, mark your calendars — the Fox series is returning for a sixth season.
Fox announced on Tuesday that the music drama, which premiered in 2015, has been renewed.
“Empire continues to break barriers with its emotionally powerful storytelling, and it remains a core part of the FOX legacy,” said President, Entertainment for FOX Entertainment, Michael Thorn. “We want to thank everyone on the show — Taraji, Terrence and the entire cast, as well as Lee, Danny, Brett, Sanaa, Brian, Francie, Dennis 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.”
The network also announced that it has “no plans” for Jussie Smollett‘s character, Jamal Lyon, to return. The news comes three months after Smollett allegedly staged a hate crime.
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox TV said, “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.”
Following the news, a rep for Smollett told The Hollywood Reporter, “We’ve been told 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. Most importantly he is grateful to Fox and Empire leadership, cast, crew and fans for their unwavering support.”
The future of the Lee Daniels and Danny Strong co-created series was unknown in the wake of star Smollett’s criminal case before the charges against him were dropped at the end of March.
Smollett, 36, told police he’d been physically attacked on the street in his downtown Chicago neighborhood around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 by two black-clad, masked men who used racist and homophobic slurs, doused him with an “unknown chemical substance” and left him with a rope around his neck.
He was arrested Feb. 20 after an investigation, and indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for making false reports.
Smollett, who faced intense scrutiny and backlash, had pleaded not guilty to allegations that he lied to police when he said he was attacked by two men in what authorities later claimed was a staged incident to draw attention to himself.
“To be perfectly honest, from the very beginning we had questions,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a news conference after Smollett had been charged.
Smollett and his legal team previously said they had planned an “aggressive defense,” according to his attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson.
“Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption,” his attorney, Mark Geragos, said in a statement released to PEOPLE after those indictments were announced.
Two brothers who were acquaintances of the actor, Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, later issued a public apology for their role in the allegedly staged incident, expressing “tremendous regret” for their actions, according to a statement from their attorney.
Their attorney later said the check they received was meant to cover both the attack and personal training services for Smollett. They also allegedly received $100 from Smollett to buy the ski masks, rope and gloves they were to use in the alleged attack.
The brothers have not been charged.
After being arrested and quickly posting a bond that allowed his release from jail in February, Smollett returned to the Chicago set of Empire. Still, following the accusations brought against Smollett, Empire‘s executive producers announced towards the end of February that the actor’s character Jamal Lyon would be removed from the final two episodes of season 5.
Weeks later, at the end of March, all charges against Smollett were dropped, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed to PEOPLE.
“After reviewing all the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case,” reads a statement from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office obtained by PEOPLE.
The office did not, however, fully retreat from its initial decision to bring charges against Smollett or otherwise address PEOPLE’s inquiry on whether prosecutors still believe he staged the attack, saying in a followup statement: “We stand by the Chicago Police Department’s investigation and our approval of charges.”
It was not immediately clear whether Smollett forfeited the $10,000 he put up to post bail or his full $100,000 bond.
Smollett’s attorneys, Tina Glandian and Patricia Brown Holmes, released a statement to PEOPLE saying, “Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him.”
The statement added, “Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgment.”
“Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions,” it continued. “This entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion. This is wrong. It is a reminder that the victim, in this case Jussie, deserves dignity and respect. Dismissal of charges against the victim in this case was the only just result.”
But earlier this month, Smollett was sued by the City of Chicago after it allegedly spent more than $130,000 “in overtime costs to investigate” his alleged January attack, according to a new lawsuit.
Smollett’s attorney did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Empire airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on Fox.