Q&A: ‘Empire’ producer Brian Grazer to Hollywood: ‘Hey, look! It can work’

From the Fox hit show Empire, from left, Ilene Chaiken (executive producer), Lee Daniels (co-creator) Brian Grazer (executive producer) and Danny Strong (co-creator).

From the Fox hit show Empire, from left, Ilene Chaiken (executive producer), Lee Daniels (co-creator) Brian Grazer (executive producer) and Danny Strong (co-creator).

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The year of diversity on television, and Hollywood at large, came full circle with Thursday morning’s Golden Globe nominations for a number of African American-led shows, namely Fox’s “Empire.” The hip hop drama landed both a nomination for best television drama and its leading lady Taraji P. Henson.

One of the show’s producers, Brian Grazer, spoke with The Times about the recognition and the show’s trailblazing run thus far:

It’s a good morning in the “Empire” camp.
All of our emails and texts and emojis were going crazy an hour ago.

Golden Globes 2016: Full coverage | Complete list | PHOTOS: Top nominees and announcements | Live reactions


When you first signed on, did you think it would be as much of a powerhouse as it is?
We had no idea. We started off as certainly underdogs because of the cast composition, because it’s largely an African American show -- and I’ve been producing African American movies and television shows for 20 years so I know how hard it is. [“Empire”] was a paradigm-breaking show. We had really good champions in Danny [Strong], Lee [Daniels] and Dana Walden [at Fox] believed in it. Not every network believed in it.

It just has worked for us. We believed in the simple nature of what it was, not knowing it was going to be a hit.

Why do you think people are responding?
It has so much unpredictability that lives in each episode. You’ve got these really great actors in Terrence [Howard] and Taraji [P. Henson], and now Jussie [Smollett] and Yazz and Trai [Byers]. They all have such strong character hooks and are delivering. So much so that we ourselves don’t know sometimes what’s going to happen. There’s a lot of invention that goes on on set everyday.

I think Danny’s premise of King Lear in the world of hip hop was a strong premise. I think that’s just worked well for us. Plus, it’s super glamorous. Another contributing element is that it’s world creation on a very high level. That hasn’t been really seen in hip hop.

You mentioned this briefly, but “Empire” is one of the shows leading the diversity charge on television. What does that say to the industry at large?


I think it’s such a great thing. We were committed, but didn’t know it could have this impact. It lowers those barriers that the establishment creates and enables other shows that have similar diversity issues to succeed. It gives them a chance.

And Taraji P. Henson landed an individual nomination.

Taraji herself is central in pioneering diversity for movies and TV. She’s a role model because now other people are pitching things [to networks and studios] with her in mind. It’s great because the Golden Globes don’t always make that choice.

I do think that between Terrence And Taraji, they’ve pioneered a movement in television that is really important. It’s a role model situation that enables other African American or expanded diversity casts to say, “Hey, look! It can work.”

Get your life! Follow me on Twitter: @TrevellAnderson.