*Wednesday’s drama-packed midseason finale of “Empire” drew 11.54 million total viewers, the best ratings since the 11.68 million who watched the Nov. 4 episode with Hakeem struggling to feel like a man after his kidnapping.
Co-creator Danny Strong, currently working on the 14th episode of the 18-episode season, sat down with Deadline.com to discuss the Winter finale, the ton of guest stars booked this season, and whether or not Oprah Winfrey will make her rumored appearance when Season 2 returns on March 30.
DEADLINE: So this idea that Lee threw out there earlier this year that Oprah may show up on Season 2 of the show isn’t happening?
STRONG: Something Lee does is whoever he had a conversation with that day he’ll tell everyone and suddenly it’s out there. But it’s just preliminary conversations. As far as Oprah goes, I don’t think she’s going to be on the show this season. I think she’s talked about it with Lee but nothing was ever firmed up. She totally digs the show but I think it was premature for anyone to talk about it publicly.
DEADLINE: Do you feel there has been too much emphasis on the guest stars this season?
STRONG: I do think we’ve had too many guest stars and we’ve already started course-correcting in the last portion of this first part of Season 2, especially in the tail end. We’ll be seeing even less guest stars going into the second half of the season as the show will get a little tighter, more focused on the Lyon family and our core group of characters.
I do think too when the story calls for it, the guest stars are terrific – like Alicia Keys, she was wonderful on the show. But I think, maybe because we were rejected by so many people in the early part of the first season and now we can get anyone we want, we were too guest-star heavy for a while.
DEADLINE: This first half of the second season has seen some ratings drops for you guys after the seemingly endless growth of Season 1. Why do you think that was?
STRONG: I think the ratings declines were completely natural. At first it made everyone very nervous because it hadn’t happened before and we had this crazy ratings success. I think when we leveled off where we did and we stayed in the same range for several episodes in a row, for me, at least, I felt good about it. Where we leveled off was still as the No. 1 show on broadcast television and that’s not a bad point to level off too.
DEADLINE: Do you think being now on in the fall as opposed to the winter and the fact that you weren’t the new new thing played a factor in the ratings?
STRONG: Absolutely, I think both those things were factors. I think that there was this novelty to the show in Season 1 and it became a cultural zeitgeist moment, which was thrilling to see and be a part of. It just was really new and when we went into Season 2 it wasn’t really new anymore and there was a lot more competition. Yet, people are still watching the show in really huge numbers.
Where we have seen our ratings drop in our live performance have been in the 25-and-under age range where all shows have dropped because they watch the show on DVR. That age range watched live in Season 1 but once we had been on for a while they went to watching the show in their normal viewing habits.
DEADLINE: You had a ton of drama and big moves on Wednesday’s episode. Was the plan to go as big as possible for your first midseason finale?
STRONG: Some things were premeditated early early on and some we got here organically over the course of this season. We had certain story points that we knew we were going to do at the end of the first season. We knew Camilla was going to come back and we knew Rhonda was going to go down the stairs. As we were writing the show over the first six or seven episodes, our plan was to save that Lucious boardroom coup move to much later in the season, but once we were saw where our story was going it kind of organically brought us to that point where we thought it should happen here and now and play out over the course of the second half of the season.
DEADLINE: Is Rhonda’s unborn baby going to survive that fall?
STRONG: I can’t answer that question! (laughs) You have to come back for that. Is Rhonda going to survive? You’re going to have to wait to find out.
DEADLINE: What was with not only bringing back Naomi Campbell’s Camilla but having her now as the wife of billionaire investor Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei) and taking over control of Empire after the board tossed Lucious? Looks like she is going to be a big part of the second part of Season 2 …
STRONG: She certainly is. I don’t know who in the writer’s room came up with that but I thought it was so genius and I loved it so much. The idea that Camilla comes in at the end of the first half of this season and takes over Empire…well, I remember when I saw the first cut of tonight’s episode and Naomi shows up, I just started cheering it made me so happy.
Read the entire Q&A at Deadline.com.