"Oh, damn, Cookie!!!"
It's the sort of shout that has become all too common when watching Fox’s breakout drama "Empire." In this moment, it's Jussie Smollett, who plays Cookie's son and crooner Jamal, who was getting worked up in the early minutes of Wednesday's episode as the sassy matriarch (played by Taraji P. Henson) delivered one of her quick-witted one-liners to patriarch Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard). (In this case, a rhyming gem: "If you want Cookie's nookie, ditch the …")
Smollett let out his shriek. Then the finger-tapping began.
The 31-year-old actor-singer was in a conference room on the Fox lot in Culver City along with a group of the show's writers and producers -- including showrunner Ilene Chaiken -- to live-tweet the East Coast feed of Wednesday's episode.
Wine and a store-bought cheese platter -- the latter of which was provided by writer Attica Locke -- served as the fuel for the night’s festivities. On the main table, was the real spread: laptops, tablets, smartphones -- and the occasional notepad.
Each had a different strategy for how to approach the one-hour tweet-athon. Writer Joshua Allen comes prepared with some drafts of tweets -- to save from the humiliation of pesky typos. Fellow writer Eric Haywood, who typically helms the writers room’s Twitter account (@EmpireWriters), prefers the “on the fly” approach.
One thing they all agree on: Silence is not golden while watching “Empire.” The group enjoys reading the tweets that come in from the audience -- laughing at the ingenuity and wishing they had thought them up. Then, there’s the matter of talking while the show is on -- it’s fair game.
The showdown between Cookie and Camilla (Naomi Campbell) -- that had hands flying in the air. The showdown between Cookie and Anika (Grace Gealy) -- you know, the one with the tongue comment -- that prompted clapping and Smollett to immediately pound out the quote to tweet to his nearly 95,000 followers. The body-shaking rendition of “You’re So Beautiful” by Jamal, in which he comes out to the public -- that had folks dancing as they tweeted.
“There is truly nothing like seeing how the fans are responding to what we’ve set up,” Chaiken told the Los Angeles Times after the episode’s East Coast telecast. “It really is like we are having one huge viewing party. We just hope people want to keep coming over. We don’t want the fun to stop.”
It was a milestone episode in the hit drama’s run. It continues to sing in the ratings week after week -- Wednesday’s episode built on from last week with 13.8 million viewers. And the show now boasts the highest average number of tweets per episode during its live airings of any broadcast drama this season, according to Nielsen Social Guide and Twitter metrics. To date, "Empire" has averaged 381,770 tweets per episode, surpassing the average of fellow social media heavyweight "Scandal."
“I try my best to keep up with all that’s being tweeted,” Smollett said. “I live-tweet every single Wednesday, both coasts. No matter where I’m at. You can’t be on TV and not do it. We took a cue from what the Shonda Rhimes shows did. How can you not engage with the fans? They are the ones who keep you relevant.”
Some of the dozen-plus trending topics that hit during Wednesday’s episode included “geriatric whore,” “Lena Horne” and “Where’s Tiana?”
Smollett thinks the key to Twitter when it comes to “Empire,” lies with the show’s sweet spot: “All you have to do is quote Cookie and you’re good. That’s a recipe for trending.”