'Empire' returns from hiatus: Will fans remember to tune in?

The Fox hit musical drama is finally airing new episodes since its December break. Has the delay added to its anticipated return or have viewers moved on?

Chuck Hodes/Fox/AP
'Empire' stars Taraji P. Henson.

The Fox hit drama "Empire" returns with a new episode on March 30, airing original content for the first time since the show took a break last December. 

"Empire" centers on the Lyon family, whose members are battling to control a music company. It stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. When it debuted at the beginning of last year, it quickly became a huge hit for Fox, particularly with younger viewers. 

Traditionally network TV has followed a fall-to-spring airing schedule for its shows, with programs often debuting in September, taking a break in December, then returning early in the next year and running until May.

However, the popularity of cable and streaming shows, which often debut acclaimed programming year-round, has prompted network TV to change its approach. While fall TV is still a big time for premières and many shows conclude in May, shows will debut at different times or take longer breaks to allow new programming to air and find an audience. 

"Empire" is one of these shows which does not strictly embrace the September-to-May model. While the Fox drama debuted its second season in late September, the show aired its final episode by early December and has been off the air since. 

"Empire" showrunner Ilene Chaiken was asked about the show's long break in an interview ahead of the program's return. 

"I know we’ve been off the air for a while," Ms. Chaiken said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "I hope that it works. I hope we haven't been gone too long. I don't think it was. I'm really excited by what we're coming back with, so hopefully the folks that love the show will feel that it was worth the wait."

Ratings for the program were lower during its second season, but the show is still doing well.

When a show like "Empire" doesn’t come back for months, broadcast networks may be holding onto their hits so they can debut a new show in midseason. 

International Business Times writer Oriana Schwindt points out that while this strategy can have its advantages more networks are trying it, which could lessen its effect on viewers. 

"Broadcast networks have discovered the wisdom of holding back some of their biggest bets and debuting them in the deep, dark winter months, perhaps giving them a greater chance to break out," Ms. Schwindt wrote. "Sometimes, such shows still fizzle.… Other times, you find yourself with a monster hit (Fox’s hip-hop soap 'Empire' in 2015). Of course, because everyone is using the same strategy, the midseason field is growing more crowded, and today’s wisdom might turn into tomorrow’s folly." 

And in 2014, Adweek writer Anthony Crupi found that keeping a show off the air for a long time may result in an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality among viewers.

"While extended hiatuses may work for the likes of 'The Walking Dead' and 'Breaking Bad,' broadcast TV series that take lengthy breaks or are erratically scheduled increasingly run the risk of losing their audiences," Mr. Crupi wrote. He pointed to ABC’s "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and Fox’s "The Mindy Project" (now canceled and airing on Hulu), which returned after long breaks or a lack of many new episodes and both experienced the lowest ratings for the shows ever upon returning.

This isn’t always the case, however, Crupi points out – ABC’s "Scandal" and "Grey’s Anatomy" scored better ratings than usual after returning in early 2015 from a lengthy break. 

Like "Grey's" and "Scandal," "Empire" is already a hit, so Fox is no doubt hoping that the long break for the show means fans are eager to see what will happen next rather than having forgotten about the program altogether.

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