Lee Daniels’ “Empire” launches Chicago pilot season

“Empire” writer/director Lee Daniels

Chicago’s pilot season starts off with some of the biggest names in the entertainment business scheduled to shoot here. Fox Television has greenlighted “Empire,” a drama from “The Butler’s” team of executive producer/director Lee Daniels and writer Danny Strong.

“Empire” will headquarter at Cinespace and shoot for 12-13 days in mid-to-late March.

The story is set in the world of a hip-hop empire and will feature both original and contemporary music.

Executive producer Brian Glazer’s Imagine Entertainment is coproducing with Fox. They had been production partners on “The Playboy Club” that shot here in 2012.

“The recent commitment that 20th Century Fox Television has made to Chicago has been extraordinary,” says Chicago Film Office director Rich Moskal. “We’re thrilled that Fox and Imagine Entertainment have looked to us again for another potential series.”

“Empire” marks Lee Daniels’ debut into television production, while actor/writer Danny Strong is a TV veteran, having acted in many popular series for 20 years.

“The fact that Lee Daniels chose to come here is proof positive that we’ve established a great environment for filmed entertainment,” says SAG AFTRA executive director Eric Chauldron. “It’s one more example of Hollywood filming here because of talent, locations and character of the city.”

Casting directors have calls out for starring roles for two African American males in their 20s, who are skilled singers and one of them is also a rapper.  Some local casting directors immediately responded to the call with audition tapes of their candidates.

Chicago’s music history an ideal backdrop

Glazer is passionate about hip-hop music and culture and reportedly had long wanted to produce a character-driven series that gives the audience a behind-the-scenes look at the music industry.

Executive producer Brian Glazer, Imagine EntertainmentChicago’s long and rich history in black music – blues, gospel, jazz, house and hip-hop – makes the city ideally suited as “Empire’s” setting.  Music specialist attorney Jay B. Ross notes that Chicago has given rise to hip-hop artists Kanye West, Common, Twister, Chief Keefe and Chance the Rapper. 

Ross is delighted with the idea of a TV music show set in Chicago. “Only on the rarest occasions has the city acknowledged any importance to music in the past.  Perhaps this situation is starting to change,” he says.

TV production shot up 30% in 2013

Given the production power behind the pilot, potential for its success as another high-rated TV series is quite likely.

“Our most impressive growth has been in episodic television,” Moskal says, noting that TV production in 2013 rose 30%, to 66 shows from 50 shows the previous year.  

Dick Wolf Productions’ two NBC Universal shows, “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago PD” alone contributed $111 million to the local economy.  Rumored are two additional shows, “Chicago MD” and “Chicago Law,” coming from the Wolf stable.

Chicago also was the setting last year for ABC’s “Mind Games,” starring Christian Slater and Steve Zahn, which will debut Feb. 25, and NBC’s “Crisis,” starring Gillian Anderson and Dermot Mulroney, which starts airing March 16.

Adding to Chicago’s national presence are Denis Leary’s USA comedy “Sirens” and Robert Redford’s CNN “Chicagoland” doc series, both airing March 6.  Unfortunately, ABC canceled “Betrayal,” due to poor showing in the ratings.