Empire (2015 TV series)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||3|
|No. of episodes||37 (list of episodes)|
New York City
|Running time||42 minutes|
|Original release||January 7, 2015 – present|
Empire is an American musical drama television series created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong which debuted on January 7, 2015 on Fox. Although filmed in Chicago, the show is based in New York and it centers on a hip hop music and entertainment company, Empire Entertainment, and the drama among the members of the founders' family as they fight for control of the company.
Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) is a former drug dealer-turned-hip hop mogul and CEO of Empire Entertainment whose life begins to cave in around him after his past sins come back to haunt him following his alleged diagnosis in Season One. Lucious, looking to groom one of his three sons Andre (Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett), and Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) to take over the family business, pits them against each other. Empire also stars Taraji P. Henson as Lucious' ex-wife Cookie Lyon, who is released from prison after serving a 17-year sentence.
Cast and characters
|Terrence Howard||Lucious Lyon||Main|
|Taraji P. Henson||Cookie Lyon||Main|
|Bryshere Y. Gray||Hakeem Lyon||Main|
|Jussie Smollett||Jamal Lyon||Main|
|Trai Byers||Andre Lyon||Main|
|Grace Gealey||Anika Calhoun||Main|
|Malik Yoba||Vernon Turner||Main|
|Kaitlin Doubleday||Rhonda Lyon||Main||Special Guest|
|Gabourey Sidibe||Becky Williams||Recurring||Main|
|Ta'Rhonda Jones||Porsha Taylor||Recurring||Main|
|Morocco Omari||Tariq Cousins||Recurring||Main|
- Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon, a former drug dealer turned hip hop mogul and the founder and long-time CEO of Empire Entertainment, whose life begins to cave in around him after his past sins come back to haunt him when allegedly diagnosed with ALS.
- Taraji P. Henson as Loretha "Cookie" Lyon, Lucious' outspoken ex-wife and mother of his three sons, who served a 17-year stretch in prison for drug dealing. She sees herself as the sacrificial lamb for Empire Entertainment, which she built with Lucious, but then took the fall for when she was arrested for running the drugs that financed Lucious' early career. Upon her return from prison, she is determined to bring the Lyon family back together and reclaim her share of Empire Entertainment. In Season 2, Cookie leaves Empire and starts her own record label, Lyon Dynasty. After allowing Empire Entertainment to acquire Lyon Dynasty, she returns to Empire as co-CEO with Lucious and Head of A&R.
- Bryshere Y. Gray as Hakeem Lyon, the fame-obsessed youngest son and Lucious' favorite child, who is a hip hop star on the rise. Hakeem starts to find feelings for his mother, Cookie, and has a great relationship with Jamal. He has relationships with Tiana, Camilla, Anika, Valentina, and Laura.
- Jussie Smollett as Jamal Lyon, the middle son of the Lyon family, a talented gay singer-songwriter who despises the corporate aspect of the music industry. He is estranged from his father who considers him the "black sheep" of the family. Jamal is Cookie's favorite and has a strong relationship with his brother Hakeem. At the end of Season 1, Lucious appoints Jamal as his successor and, later, interim CEO when he is arrested. He later relinquishes control of Empire back to Lucious.
- Trai Byers as Andre Lyon, the eldest son of the Lyon family and CFO of Empire Entertainment. He is Wharton educated, power hungry, and suffers from bipolar disorder. He is married to his college sweetheart, Rhonda. He plans to run Empire, but is in a battle for the head chair with his younger brothers. In Season 2, Andre initially helps Cookie and Hakeem set up Lyon Dynasty, but later returns to Empire. Lucious later promotes Andre to President of Gutter Life Records, a sub-division of Empire Entertainment consisting of mainly urban rappers, such as Freda Gatz. Nessa's new love interest.
- Grace Gealey as Anika Calhoun, initially the ambitious head of Empire Entertainment A&R who becomes engaged to Lucious, but eventually separate. After leaving Empire, Anika begins to sleep with Hakeem, leading to Anika's pregnancy. Fearful of Rhonda's pregnancy and the unborn child's claim to being the Heir of Empire, Anika pushes Rhonda down a set of stairs, leading to the death of her unborn child. Cookie and Anika share an extreme dislike for one another, with Cookie referring to Anika as the derisive nickname "Boo Boo Kitty".
- Malik Yoba as Vernon Turner, Lucious's longtime friend and business partner, and chairman of Empire Entertainment. (Season 1)
- Kaitlin Doubleday as Rhonda Lyon (season 1–2; guest, season 3), Andre's wife. She is a ride or die type of woman, who is extremely fierce and loyal, and sticks by Andre's side as he tries to gain control of Empire. In the Season 1 finale, she finds out that she is pregnant, but the baby eventually dies in the Season 2 spring premiere, after Anika violently pushed her down the stairs in the Season 2 fall finale. After her recovery, Rhonda begins to work for Empire's fashion label, Antony and Cleopatra, initially headed by Camilla Marks-Whiteman. After Camilla's suicide, Rhonda is appointed Creative Director of Antony and Cleopatra. In the Season 3 premiere, she falls off of a building and lands onto a car, leading to her death, after attacking Anika. She makes guest appearances in the third season, as the ghost of Rhonda, appearing to Andre due to his hallucinations.
- Ta'Rhonda Jones as Porsha Taylor (season 2–; recurring, season 1), Cookie's executive assistant.
- Gabourey Sidibe as Becky Williams (season 2–; recurring, season 1), executive assistant to Lucious at Empire Entertainment. After Jamal's promotion to Vice Chairman, Jamal promotes Becky to A&R at Empire and its sub-label, Gutter Life Records.
- Serayah as Tiana Brown (season 2–present, recurring season 1), an artist at Empire Entertainment who becomes Hakeem's girlfriend for some time. In season 2, she leaves Empire for Lyon Dynasty. She also starts to get jealous of the relationship Hakeem has with Laura.
- Bre-Z (born Calesha Murray) as Freda Gatz (season 3–; recurring, season 2), a female rapper, who becomes a surrogate daughter to Lucious after the murder of her father, Frank Gathers. Lucious later sets up Freda to become Hakeem's rival.
- Morocco Omari as Tariq Cousins (Season 3–; recurring, season 2), an FBI Agent who is also Lucious' half-brother.
- Xzibit as Leslie 'Shyne' Johnson (Season 3–; guest, season 2), described as "100 percent wolf and 100 percent gangsta," he is a rival of Lucious.
- Shanesia Davis as Mrs. Calhoun, Anika Calhoun's mother
- Naomi Campbell as Camilla Marks-Whiteman, a fashion designer and who becomes Hakeem's lover, but then leaves him, later on she is announced as the wife of Mimi in season 2 (Season 1-2).
- Eka Darville as Ryan Morgan, a documentary filmmaker who becomes Jamal's temporary boyfriend. (Season 1).
- Rafael de La Fuente as Michael Sanchez, Jamal's boyfriend. They separate in season 1, but reunited sometime before the premiere of season 2. Michael eventually cheats on Jamal with Chase One, and they end their relationship.
- Nealla Gordon as Agent Harlow Carter, an FBI agent working with Cookie (Season 1)
- Damon Gupton as Detective Calvin Walker, a police detective investigating the murder of Bunkie (Season 1)
- Jennifer Hudson as Michelle White, a music therapist and gospel singer (season 1)
- V. Bozeman as Veronica, an artist formerly signed to Empire Entertainment (season 1–2)
- Courtney Love as Elle Dallas, a multi-platinum rockstar and Empire Entertainment royal, who battles with drug addiction. She is in dire need of a comeback. (Season 1)
- Derek Luke as Malcolm DeVeaux, head of security at Empire Entertainment. He becomes Cookie's boyfriend in season 1 and then quits his job.
- Antoine McKay as Marcus "Bunkie" Williams, Cookie's cousin who was killed by Lucious (Season 1).
- Judd Nelson as Billy Baretti, owner of Creedmoor Entertainment and Lucious's rival who oversaw the early years of Lucious's music career. (Season 1)
- Andre Royo as Thurston 'Thirsty' Rawlings, Lucious's lawyer. (Season 2-)
- Tasha Smith as Carol Holloway, Cookie's younger sister from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is a recovering drug addict.
- Vivica A. Fox as Candace Holloway, Cookie's well-behaved but snobby and judgmental older sister. She lives in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Danny (who is white), and their two children, Brianna and Franklin. (Season 2-)
- Tyra Ferrell as Roxanne Ford, a prosecutor (Season 2)
- Marisa Tomei as Mimi Whiteman, a Forbes billionaire, venture capitalist, and lesbian who is asked by Cookie and Andre to invest £250 million in order to complete the hostile takeover of Empire Entertainment. However, she instead sides with Lucious. She eventually betrays Lucious, resulting in her and her wife Camilla receiving control of Empire. She withdraws her stocks and funding from Camilla after a sex tape of her and Hakeem's affair is exposed. This results in Mimi being murdered by Camilla, who afterwards immediately commits suicide, giving Hakeem full control of Empire. (Season 2)
- Tobias Truvillion as Derek "D-Major" Major, a music producer, who is secretly gay and Jamal's brief love interest (Season 2)
- AzMarie Livingston as Chicken, Hakeem's friend and apparent DJ
- Kelly Rowland (in flashbacks) as Leah Walker, the mother of Dwight Walker (Lucious' real name). She suffered from bipolar disorder, and was believed to have committed suicide when Lucious was 9 years old.
- Adam Rodríguez as Laz Delgado, a concert promoter and former love interest for Cookie Lyon until it was revealed that he had involvement in a series of scare tactics and money schemes against Lyon Dynasty (season 2)
- Jamila Velazquez as Laura Calleros, the lead singer of Hakeem's girl group, Mirage à Trois, and also Hakeem's ex-fiancée (season 2)
- Mike Moh as Steve Cho, who works in PR at Empire (Season 1-).
- Claudette Burchett as Juanita, a maid at Lucious's mansion (Season 2-).
- Leslie Uggams as Leah Walker, Lucious' mother, who was assumed dead, but was being cared for in a nursing facility. She is eventually brought home by Andre after he learns she is not really dead, and is now living in Lucious' home. (Season 2-)
- Taye Diggs as Angelo Dubois, a well-respected city councilman with a Harvard law degree and a wealthy background (Season 3-)
- Phylicia Rashad as Diana Dubois, a powerhouse from one of New York's oldest and most prominent African-American families and mother of Angelo Dubois. She came from an impoverished background, and is a graduate of Penn State (Season 3-)
- Samuel Hunt as Xavier Rosa, the new head of A&R, much to Becky's displeasure. (Season 3-)
- Sierra McClain as Nessa Johnson (Season 3-)
- Nia Long as Giuliana (Giusi), a queenpin who runs a club in Las Vegas and make brash moves in the gangster underworld of New York City to secure a deal with Empire. She is sleek, sexy, and cold-blooded and rubs elbows with Lucious and is expected to go toe-to-toe with Cookie (Season 3-)
- Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Dwayne "Puma" Robinson, a songwriter and old associate of Lucious and Cookie (Season 1)
- Raven-Symoné as Olivia Lyon, Jamal's ex-wife (Season 1)
- DeRay Davis as Jermel, a cousin of Cookie who is paid to kill a former associate of the family (Season 1-2)
- Estelle as Delphine, a superstar singer who gets signed to Empire by Lucious (season 1)
- Mary J. Blige as Angie, a woman from Lucious's past (season 1)
- Chris Rock as Frank Gathers, a drug kingpin for whom Lucious and Cookie worked in the past (season 2)
- Ludacris, as Officer McKnight, a security guard at Lucious's prison. (season 2)
- Petey Pablo as Clyde, prison-mate of Lucious (season 2)
- Becky G as Valentina Galindo, an aspiring singer, and a former fling of Hakeem (season 2)
- Alicia Keys as Skye Summers, a pop singer and fling of Jamal (Season 2)
- Da Brat as Jezzy, one of Cookie's prison mates (season 2)
- Rosie O'Donnell as Pepper O'Leary, Cookie's former cellmate for over a decade (season 2)
- Snoop Dogg as himself
- Sway Calloway as himself
- Anthony Hamilton as himself
- Fantastic Negrito as himself performed with Jamal song Lost in The Crowd (season 2)
- Gladys Knight as herself
- Rita Ora as herself
- Juicy J as himself
- Patti LaBelle as herself
- Charles Hamilton as himself
- Pitbull as himself
- Timbaland as himself
- Sharon Carpenter as herself
- Ne-Yo as himself
- Funkmaster Flex as himself
- Nicole Richie as herself
- Joel Madden as himself
- Jason Derulo as himself
- Lee Daniels as himself
- Montana of 300 as himself
- French Montana as Vaughn Cooper
- Birdman as himself
- Mariah Carey as Kitty, a superstar singer who works with Jamal.
|Season||Episodes||Originally aired||Nielsen ratings|
|First aired||Last aired||Rank||Viewers|
|1||12||January 7, 2015||March 18, 2015||5||17.33|
|2||18||September 23, 2015||May 18, 2016||5||15.94|
|3||TBA||September 21, 2016||TBA||TBA||TBA|
Howard, Henson and Sidibe filmed the pilot episode in Chicago in March 2014. On May 6, 2014, Fox picked up Empire as a series order for its 2014–15 television schedule. On May 12, 2014, Fox announced that Empire would air as a midseason replacement rather than as a part of the fall schedule. On November 19, it was confirmed that the pilot episode would premiere on January 7, 2015, following the premiere of season 14 of American Idol.
The executive producers are Brian Grazer, Daniels, Strong and Francie Calfo. The show is written by Strong; Daniels, who has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, made his television directorial debut with the show. According to Strong, the show is based in part on William Shakespeare's King Lear and James Goldman's The Lion in Winter; Daniels also acknowledged strong influence from the ABC prime-time soap opera Dynasty. Ilene Chaiken later joined the series as showrunner.
Howard was cast in the lead on February 19, 2014. Henson was named as the female lead on February 26, and Jussie Smollett was announced in a starring role. Howard and Henson previously starred together as love interests in the film Hustle & Flow, and starred in the 2005 film Four Brothers. On March 10, 2014, Sidibe, who had previously worked with Daniels in Precious, was cast in a recurring role as Becky, Lucious' assistant. Trai Byers and Grace Gealey were announced in regular roles, while Bryshere Y. Gray and Malik Yoba were announced in starring roles. Courtney Love was added to the cast on October 23. Naomi Campbell was announced in a recurring role on September 29. On June 2, 2015, it was announced Adam Rodriguez would join the cast in a recurring role in season 2 portraying Laz Delgado, a potential love interest for Cookie.
After finding his lead actors, Lee Daniels set out to find a producer to craft the music for the series. Because he felt his own musical tastes and desires would be a little too dated for the show, Daniels consulted with people he thought could give him a little more insight, his children. At the urging of his son and daughter, Daniels contacted super producer Timothy "Timbaland" Mosley, known for scoring hits with some of pop's biggest artists including Missy Elliott, Madonna, Brandy, Destiny's Child, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Nelly Furtado, Ginuwine and Aaliyah.
Timbaland, co-songwriter/producer Jim Beanz, and a team of other musical collaborators take their cues from the writing team, which gives them an idea of where the plot is headed, and craft songs to fit those themes. However, the musical aspect of the series is very reality based, unlike Fox's last musical series, Glee, performances would come with the organic development of the characters as artists, much like the performances featured in the ABC prime-time country musical drama Nashville. Daniels said: "The story drives the music, the music doesn't drive the story". Fox's senior VP of TV Music Geoff Bywayer said to expect the fictional musical world to collide with the real musical world; "We want to make the world of 'Empire' almost feel like a real music-breathing entity." While the show will also use outside writers, Timbaland's team gets the first chance to craft original music for the series. Terrence Howard himself is credited with writing the song "What The DJ Spins", which is said in Episode 2 to have been instrumental in launching his character's career.
Any licensed songs and composer Fil Eisler's score are added after the episodes are filmed. The pilot itself consists of 12 songs. Columbia Records will release weekly soundtracks of Empire on the iTunes Store, the same strategy used with Glee. In May 2015, Fox announced that Ne-Yo and J.R. Rotem would write music for the show's second season, joining Timbaland.
On September 8, 2015, Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi from Pentatonix arranged a medley of songs from the first season of Empire and posted it on their shared YouTube comedy/music channel, Superfruit. The video was sponsored by the Fox Broadcasting Company.
Columbia Records released the official soundtrack of the season on March 10, 2015. The soundtrack consists of 11 songs and the deluxe version consists of 18 songs, all performed on the show. As of October 2015, the album has sold 439,000 total copies in the United States.
|Season 1||March 10, 2015||Columbia||
|Season 1||September 11, 2015||Digital download||The Complete Season 1|
|Season 2 (Vol. 1)||November 20, 2015||
|Season 2 (Vol. 2)||April 29, 2016|
|Season 2||July 8, 2016||Digital download||The Complete Season 2|
Empire was set to premiere in Australia on February 19, 2015 on Network Ten, however a week out from this date it was dumped from the schedule and pushed back. It ultimately premiered on March 1, 2015, to a disappointing 377,000 total viewers, although it fared better with viewers in younger demographics. The second season will be broadcast on Eleven from September 29, 2015.
In Canada, the series was simulcast on Omni Television (Omni 2). The fourth episode and the season finale would also air on City, a sibling broadcast network. Sibling cable network FX Canada would also air a marathon of the show on March 14 and 15, 2015. The show moved to City starting in the 2015-16 season, but was dropped from their lineup after the first half of the second season due to low ratings; Fox affiliates are widely available on pay television as well as over-the-air in some areas. Shomi, a subscription streaming service co-owned by City's parent company Rogers Communications, began to add new episodes following their U.S. premiere on Fox. A representative of the service stated that Empire was among its ten most popular programs.
Empire is broadcasting in the UK on E4 with the first episode airing on April 28, 2015. The series premiered in India on STAR World Premiere HD on April 24, 2015 (only in high-definition). Later, on July 14, 2015, Empire also premiered on FX India (both in standard and high definition) with the Season 1 finale airing on July 29, 2015. Empire premiered on June 24, 2015 in Germany on Pro Sieben, with the Pilot reaching 930,000 viewers. In Finland, the show premiered on Sub on December 2, 2015. In South Africa, the show premiered on e.tv on February 3, 2016.In Serbia series start January 23, 2016 on Fox it aired Thursdays at 10pm
|Season||Time slot (ET)||Episodes||Premiered||Ended||TV Season||Rank|| Viewers
|Rank (18-49)||18-49 rating|
|Date|| Premiere viewers
|Date|| Finale viewers|
Wednesday 8:00 pm (episode 11)
|2||18||16.18||May 18, 2016||10.88||2015–16||#5||15.73||#2||6.4|
Empire has received positive reviews from critics. The praise has gone towards the cast, particularly Howard and Henson. On Rotten Tomatoes, the first season has a rating of 80%, based on 48 reviews, with an average rating of 7.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Though heavy on melodrama, Empire elevates the nighttime soap with its top-notch cast, musical entertainment, and engrossing plots." On Metacritic the show has a score of 72 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". For the second season, it built up more acclaim from critics, praising the performances of Henson and Howard, the character development, plot development, and the show's self-awareness for being a soap opera. On Rotten Tomatoes, the second season has a 95% "Certified Fresh" with an average rating of 7.8/10 from critics and a score of 77 from Metacritic, indicating "generally positive reviews".
Dave Wiegand stated in The Seattle Times that "Almost nothing about Empire, created by Lee Daniels (The Butler), feels original, but after a few minutes, you will stop caring". 50 Cent stated via Twitter that he feels that Empire is being marketed by FOX in a way that resembles the marketing for the 2014 Starz series that he produces called Power. Michael Logan of TV Guide described Empire as a "sudsy retooling of King Lear with hip hop as the backdrop and praised Henson for her portrayal of the character Cookie.
The show's premiere ranked as Fox's highest-rated debut in three years. Viewership has increased continuously; Empire is the first primetime broadcast series in at least 23 years to have its viewership increase week to week for its first five episodes. The show continues to increase its viewership with further episodes. Episodes of the show have also been heavily watched on Video on Demand and other streaming services. As of its first season finale, Empire has now surpassed The Big Bang Theory as the highest rated scripted program in the 2014-2015 television season. The first season finale is also the highest rated debut season finale since May 2005, when Grey's Anatomy ended its first season. Empire's season one finale grew 82 percent from its series premiere, making it the show that has grown the most over the course of its first season since Men in Trees during the 2006-2007 season.
Awards and nominations
|2015||American Film Institute||Top 10 TV Shows||'Empire'||Won|
|BET Award||Best Actor||Terrence Howard||Won|
|Best Actress||Taraji P. Henson||Won|
|Critics' Choice Television Award||Best Drama Series||Empire||Nominated|
|Best Actress in a Drama Series||Taraji P. Henson||Won|
|Most Bingeworthy Show||Empire||Nominated|
|People's Choice Award||Favorite Network TV Drama||Empire||Nominated|
|Favorite Dramatic TV Actor||Terrence Howard||Nominated|
|Favorite Dramatic TV Actress||Taraji P. Henson||Nominated|
|Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series||Taraji P. Henson||Nominated|
|Outstanding Costumes for a Contemporary Series, Limited Series or Movie|| Eileen McCahill and Paolo Nieddu
| Rita D. McGhee and Sukari McGill
("The Lyon's Roar")
|Teen Choice Award||Choice TV Show: Drama||Empire||Won|
|Choice TV Actor: Drama||Terrence Howard||Nominated|
|Choice TV Actress: Drama||Taraji P. Henson||Nominated|
|Choice TV: Breakout Show||Empire||Won|
|Choice TV: Breakout Star||Bryshere Y. Gray||Nominated|
|Choice TV: Scene Stealer||Trai Byers||Nominated|
|Choice TV: Villain||Terrence Howard||Nominated|
|Choice TV: Chemistry||Trai Byers, Bryshere Y. Gray, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard & Jussie Smollett||Nominated|
|Choice Music: Song from a Movie or TV Show||"You're So Beautiful" - Empire Cast feat. Jussie Smollett & Bryshere Y. Gray||Nominated|
|Television Critics Association Award||Program of the Year||Empire||Won|
|Outstanding Achievement in Drama||Empire||Nominated|
|Outstanding New Program||Empire||Nominated|
|Individual Achievement in Drama||Taraji P. Henson||Nominated|
|Hollywood Music in Media Awards||Original Score - TV Show / Digital Series||Empire||Nominated|
|Song - TV Show/Digital Series||"Good Enough"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Music Supervision - Television||"Empire"||Won|
|Soundtrack Album||"Empire Original Soundtrack From Season 1"||Nominated|
|2016||Grammy Award||Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media||Empire: Original Soundtrack from Season 1||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Television Series – Drama||Empire||Nominated|
|Best Actress – Television Series Drama||Taraji P. Henson||Won|
|NAACP Image Awards||Outstanding Drama Series||Empire||Won|
|Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series||Terrence Howard||Won|
|Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series||Taraji P. Henson||Won|
|Outstanding Album||Empire: Original Soundtrack from Season 1||Nominated|
|Outstanding Song – Contemporary||"Conqueror" Empire Cast||Nominated|
|Outstanding Duo, Group or Collaboration||Won|
|Critics Choice Television Award||Best Drama Series||Empire||Nominated|
|Best Actress in a Drama Series||Taraji P. Henson||Nominated|
|Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series||Marisa Tomei||Nominated|
|Most Bingeworthy Show||Empire||Nominated|
|Costume Designers Guild||Outstanding Contemporary Television Series||Rita McGhee||Nominated|
|Teen Choice Award||Choice: TV Show||Empire||Nominated|
|Choice: TV Drama Actor||Terrence Howard||Nominated|
|Choice: TV Drama Actress||Taraji P. Henson||Nominated|
|Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series||Nominated|
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- Official website
- Official "Empire Enterprises" website, run by FOX
- Empire at the Internet Movie Database
- Empire at TV.com
- Empire at Metacritic
- Empire at Rotten Tomatoes
- Empire at epguides.com
- Empire at The Futon Critic
- Empire at TV Guide