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How 'Empire' became network TV's fastest-growing hit drama since 'House'

How 'Empire' became network TV's fastest-growing hit drama since 'House'

How big can Fox's "Empire" get? That's a question everyone in the TV industry is asking these days.

A soapy epic of an ailing hip-hop mogul (Terrence Howard), his flashy ex-con wife (Taraji P. Henson) and their backbiting family, "Empire" just keeps expanding in the ratings. Wednesday's episode drew 13.9 million total viewers, making it easily the most-watched program of the night as well as the highest-rated in all key demographic groups, according to Nielsen.

Among viewers ages 18 to 49, the category most closely watched by advertisers, "Empire" did a 5.4 rating. That's twice the audience for its lead-in, the veteran singing contest "American Idol" -- and "Idol" was the night's No. 2 program.

Things weren't looking so great for Fox when this season began -- "Idol" has tumbled in recent years and the network had struck out looking for a big drama hit -- but the situation sure has improved since then.

"Empire" started strong last month and has just kept going. This week marked the seventh straight week of growth for the show among young adults. That kind of growth almost never happens in TV, where audiences usually plateau quickly if they turn out at all. In fact, "Empire" is TV's fastest-growing new drama since Fox's medical hit "House" more than 10 years ago.

Like many dramas, "Empire" also gets a big bump from delayed viewing. Fox estimates that 21.5 million total viewers watch the program over the course of a month via all possible devices, including TVs, DVRs, set-top boxes, tablets and so on.

There's evidence that "Empire" is tapping an audience that many network dramas don't reach. An estimated 62% of "Empire" viewers are black, according to Fox. (By comparison, the audience for ABC's "Scandal" is 37% black). The show's 18-to-49 rating in households earning more than $100,000 a year is a 2.6 -- indicating a more moderate- and low-income audience than network executives typically target in their programming decisions. 

As for the show itself, it gives TV viewers something they haven't seen in a while, an over-the-top family soap a la "Dallas," stuffed with characters and intrigue and, in this case, contemporary pop music.

It's all proving to be a winning formula, one that could well reshape TV dramas for seasons to come.

What do you think of "Empire"?

Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT

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