Empire showrunner Brett Mahoney has insisted it's "too early" to think about going forward with the TV show without Jussie Smollett.
The 36-year-old actor, who plays Jamal Lyon in the hip-hop drama, was recently charged with 16 felony counts for allegedly lying to police about being attacked by two men while they yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him outside his apartment in Chicago, Illinois in January (19).
As the drama was unfolding, Jussie was written out of the last two episodes of Empire's current season five, but showrunner Mahoney told Entertainment Weekly on Wednesday (13Mar19) that it was too soon to know about the actor's future on the show.
"It's a matter of trusting the process and allowing the legal process to play out and see where it goes from there. And it's too early to think about what we would have to do if we didn't have Jussie," he said. "We have such a strong ensemble and we have so many stories to tell for all of these fascinating characters that it's bigger than one character, but it's too early to think about the show without him."
Mahoney, who described the recent weeks as an "emotional rollercoaster", admitted it was difficult deciding to remove him from those episodes, but it was necessary to avoid disruption.
"I think in terms of allowing the cast and the crew to really get the work done without a great deal of disruption in terms of the day-to-day and the stress of the day-to-day, and, in addition, allowing Jussie the time to really deal with what he's been confronted with and allow him the time to focus and prepare his case, this seems like the logical decision to make," he continued.
During the interview, he also addressed rumours that the drama was dividing the cast and crew, saying it was actually "bringing people together", and that he's confident the show will be renewed for another season, even though it's been speculated it will be cancelled amid the scandal.
"I know that the network and studio is really happy with what we've done creatively this season," he said. "All the indications I have are that we will be (renewed). And we do have so many of these stories to tell, so I can't imagine we won't be able to tell them."
Jussie, who is set to appear in court on Thursday, was included in scenes when the show returned for its midseason premiere on Wednesday night.