One thing you can say about Fox Network and their pick of TV shows: They’ve always taken chances that mostly succeeded spectacularly. And while they’ve occasionally had some spectacular choices that ended in a thud, they continually push the envelope while still keeping within the bounds of so-called standards and practices. With their latest pick-up for the 2014-15 season, that might be challenged more based on reports of the plotting.
As part of the new wave of movie directors coming to TV, Lee Daniels is going to be bringing the true first Hip-Hop drama called “Empire.” And with Hip-Hop still a never-ending, powerful force in the music industry, this isn’t going to be a show that’s thin on topical ideas. With Daniels himself saying that the storylines will be pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable on commercial TV, it gives all indications that it could become the new standout hit of next season.
The only questions are whether it can fit successfully into the standard-season format and whether Daniels will constantly be fighting a losing battle with the FCC.
Can a Hip-Hop “Dynasty” Work on TV Today?
With Daniels being quoted by The Hollywood Reporter as saying “Empire” will be the new Hip Hop “Dynasty” of today, you can see that quote colliding with the new spirit of limited-run TV. It’s doubtful the nighttime soaps of the 1980s and ’90s would be able to sustain today when shows with longer episode arcs are being canceled right and left lately. Shows that have shorter episode runs of 12 or less are becoming the norm, especially on cable. Nevertheless, commercial TV is starting to do the same thing here and there. They already give hints of the format in truncated first seasons of usually successful midseason replacements.
Even Fox has learned the value of such things recently with a limited run for the resumption of “24.” While perhaps Lee Daniels’ “Empire” will surprise everybody and have enough material to keep a full season alive, it appears that music might help keep that element going. It’s worked for “Glee” (and “Nashville”), both of which are some of the few shows on commercial TV sustaining a full season at the top of the ratings. Music may be the secret ingredient to keeping material interesting each week, including “Empire” reportedly taking plot ideas from real events.
Will Fox Straddle the Line with What’s Acceptable?
Fox has always taken dares on their programming and included things the other three network would still balk at today. But when you consider how adult Lee Daniels’ material usually is, what they show there may light up Twitter into a commentary for yet another TV show worthy of being analyzed. What that’s going to entail will remain to be seen, though Daniels promises there won’t be much violence. That only leaves sex, profanity, and perhaps other controversial subject matter we’re not used to seeing in overly heavy supply on commercial TV. It brings commercial TV closer and closer to the world of cable that Fox sometimes tries to push. It also brings the FCC to many more dilemmas on how to handle the inevitable pushing of the envelope. Will they give Fox and Daniels major headaches that he doesn’t want?
There seems to be every effort to bring a hard R-rated approach to some shows without necessarily showing things outright. Much of that seems to be through insinuation, which may be the greatest compromise to bridge the gap between cable and commercial TV shows. With insinuation always bringing more feelings of dread in horror movies than showing something outright, the same could be said with dramas dealing with controversial subject matter. Using insinuative ingenuity gives a chance to feel like you’ve just watched a cable show when you’ve really seen nothing explicit.
If that’s how “Empire” works, it may not have to end on commercial TV in a huff down the road to relocate to HBO or Showtime. It also gives a chance to give a better understanding of the Hip-Hop culture that’s been sorely neglected on commercial TV due to the possible fears of just how far they could take things.