When Empire first debuted in the U.S. last year, it was a ratings juggernaut the size of the Super Bowl. Its second season hasn’t quite matched that success (did you even know it returns from midseason hiatus tonight?), but it remains one of Fox’s biggest hits. So why, then, has Empire been a virtual flop overseas? According to The Hollywood Reporter, both seasons of the show have bombed in the U.K., Australia, Canada, and Germany — and the foreign network’s reason for the show’s global failure is just as ridiculous as you think. Simply put: International audiences apparently can’t relate to a show with an all-black cast.
“These shows are a reflection of our society, but [they are] not a reflection of all societies,” Marion Edwards, president of international TV at Fox, says. “Having a diverse cast creates another hurdle for U.S. series trying to break through; it would be foolish not to recognize that. We are telling our units that they need to be aware that by creating too much diversity in the leads in their show means … problems having their shows translating to the international market.” Oof.
But experts say it goes beyond just the casting. One professor of African-American studies tells THR that part of the problem is Empire features black actors telling a very black story, whereas international audiences might be more inclined to watch “black faces but non-ethnically specific kinds of stories,” like global smashes CSI and NCIS. In other words, if it’s too black, it might be too unwatchable for certain people.
An even more logical reason (or at least one that isn’t offensive) is that Empire’s kind of format just doesn’t work in some overseas markets. German networks say that its audiences are more likely to watch an American procedural or sitcom than a drama with multiple story arcs that play out over an 18-episode season — because not even smart Europeans can keep up with who’s having whose baby. Well, that’s certainly a better PR look than “our people can’t relate to black people,” isn’t it? Not a word of any of this to Idris, we beg you.