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By Joe Flint
Actor Jussie Smollett's future with the popular Fox television drama "Empire" is in doubt, people familiar with the situation said, after Chicago authorities accused him of faking a hate crime but ultimately dropped the charges.
Executives close to the show are expected to meet in the coming days to discuss a renewal of "Empire" for a sixth season and the fate of Mr. Smollett, the people said.
The decision isn't just big for Fox Corp.'s Fox network. It is also an early test for Walt Disney Co., which took over the studio that produces the show, Twentieth Century Fox Television, in its larger acquisition of assets from 21st Century Fox.
Disney has proved that it is willing to cut bait on a popular star when controversy surfaces. Last year, the company canceled the ABC sitcom "Roseanne" after its star Roseanne Barr sent a racist tweet. The show went on without her as "The Conners" and will be back next season.
"Empire" is still an important show for Fox and the network is expected to order another season with or without Mr. Smollett, the people familiar with the matter said.
A spokesman for Mr. Smollett didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Smollett claimed that on Jan. 29 he was attacked by two men who threw a rope around his neck, doused him with a chemical believed to be bleach and yelled racial and antigay epithets at him.
Prosecutors the following month charged him with filing a false police report, after police investigated the matter. But in March the Cook County, Ill., state's attorney's office dropped the charges, noting Mr. Smollett had forfeited his $10,000 bond and completed 16 hours of community service. In a statement, the office said it wasn't exonerating the actor.
The decision was criticized by high-profile figures including outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said dropping the charges and sealing the case was a "whitewash of justice." He said Mr. Smollett should reimburse the city the $130,000 spent investigating the incident.
The events left the Fox network and studio in an uncomfortable position regarding "Empire," a fast-moving drama that centers on a music mogul and his family.
Twentieth Century Fox Television initially stood behind the actor after he made his claim. But the story took twists and turns, and Mr. Smollett's version of events was called into question.
Producers ended up writing Mr. Smollett's character, Jamal Lyon, out of the show's final two episodes of the current season. The network must soon decide on picking up a sixth season. Mr. Smollett's fate is a component of those talks.
Chicago police alleged that Mr. Smollett had paid two associates to carry out the attack to garner publicity in the hopes of raising his stature and professional profile.
Mr. Smollett has stood by his story, saying he didn't stage an attack but was the victim of a hate crime.
Write to Joe Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 11, 2019 16:05 ET (20:05 GMT)
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