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'Empire’s Chaiken Throws Down Diversity Gauntlet

Empire is proof that a show can feature people of color and also be a massive hit, and Ilene Chaiken, showrunner on the Fox hit, said it’s on the industry as a whole to improve the number of women and minorities on both sides of the camera. “It’s important to me, it’s important to the medium, it’s important to the world at large,” she said on a conference call, stressing how the issue is also dear to creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong. “Everybody in a position to make the change needs to take some responsibility.”

Chaiken promised major pyrotechnics when the rookie smash returns on Fox Sept. 23. The feuding family dynamic will again be central to the storylines. “You have people who love and hate one another all at once,” she says. “You’ll see moments when they have each other’s back as well as moments when they stab one another in the back.”

Chaiken also said there’d be a broader array of musical styles this season, and dismissed any mention of a sophomore slump. “We certainly don’t feel like we’re out of story,” she said.

If the reaction from screening room crowds is any indication, Empire may be able to continue its gravity-defying ratings trajectory. Chaiken got a huge charge out of watching people react to the new season. “Standing in the audience and hearing people screaming and shouting and calling back to the characters on the screen is fabulous and crazy,” she said.

The way she described it, season two sounds like it’s competing with a certain medieval fantasy series over on HBO. “Season one is built on the premise of who inherits the throne,” Chaiken says. “Season two is warring kingdoms. That’s about as Shakespearean as I’m gonna get today.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.