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Fox's Empire is a modern-day musical melodrama inspired in part by King Lear. The Shakespeare play is even name-checked in the pilot episode, when Terrence Howard as hip-hop mogul Lucious Lyon, pits his three sons against each other in a struggle for the throne. The plot thickens when Lucious's ex-wife Cookie, played by Taraji P. Henson, emerges from prison after 17 years and demands what's hers from her former husband and his new love interest.

Empire opened big and it's defied gravity as the ratings went up week after week. The season finale drew more than 17 million viewers, and the show is on track to be the most-watched series of the season in the 18-to-49 demographic, the age range most loved by advertisers.

While the show is an unapologetic soap opera -- co-creator Lee Daniels has compared it with the 80's TV series Dynasty -- it also deals with serious issues like mental illness and homophobia. With an almost entirely African American cast, the show is a breakthrough in prime-time and the other broadcast networks are taking note.

Danny Strong came up with the idea for Empire. It's another success in an exceptionally versatile career. He wrote two award-winning HBO films about politics; he wrote Lee Daniels' The Butler, and he wrote not one, but two Hunger Games movies.

But Strong is also an actor whom you might recognize from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Gilmore Girls or, more recently, Mad Men, Justified and Girls. It was actually another actor friend who first gave Strong the idea to try writing.

Once he sold a script, he was hooked. Unlike some writers, Strong has never held to the notion of "write what you know." He tells us how he's been able to put himself inside the heads of characters as diverse as Sarah Palin to Katniss Everdeen to Cookie Lyon.

And if you missed Cookie's stellar dialogue on Empire the first time around, you can now watch all the episodes on Hulu, which struck an exclusive deal with Fox to stream the show.




Kaitlin Parker