Emmy winner Danny Strong dishes creating ‘Empire’ (Exclusive Video)

“It wasn’t part of the goal of the show to begin with,” admits “Empire” co-creator Danny Strong about the smash-hit series being such a strong contender this awards season. “To see it sort of become this other thing I think is neat and cool that it’s being thought of in this way and it just goes to show that people’s minds are pretty wide-open to what they see as an award season type show and that it doesn’t have to fit into the mold of what they have been, and very deservedly so, for the last several years.”

Watch dozens of video chats with 2015 Emmy contenders

Empire” was the first series on FOX to continually build on its audience for seven straight weeks, something Strong admits to watching very closely: “I remember when we got to the season finale, because we’d grown every single week, and it was this ‘well, are we going to stick the landing?’ And I was pretty excited to see if that would end up happening like that and then we did and then we went back to writing the show two weeks later.”

The two-time Emmy champ (for writing and producing the 2012 telefilm “Game Change”) reveals that the original concept for “Empire” was as a feature film. “I was in L.A. driving around and there was a news story on the radio about Puffy and I just remember hearing this story thinking hip-hop is such an exciting, dynamic world with amazing characters and killer music I should do something in hip-hop. Maybe there’s this movie/musical I could do that takes place in a hip-hop empire. Then I started to get really excited about it and thought I should give Lee Daniels a call. He said it should be a TV show.”

Much of the show’s success has to do with the characters, including Taraji P. Henson’s portrayal of Cookie Lyons which just won her a Critics’ Choice TV Award: “I remember when I pitched the role of Cookie to Lee Daniels, although her name wasn’t Cookie yet. I just said he was going to have an ex-wife that gets out of jail at the very beginning of the movie for the money that started the empire. And I had said: ‘I think she’s going to be like Mama Rose on crack’ and Lee Daniels just started screaming: ‘Yes darling! Yes!’”

Below: Watch our complete interview with Strong to find out more about Cookie and the rest of the cast, what to expect in season two, and how big a role the fans play. Then use the easy drag-and-drop menu to tell us if you think “Empire” will be nominated for Best Drama Series.

Make all of your Emmy predictions and you could win a place of honor on our leaderboard, a starring role in next year’s Top 24 Users (the two dozen folks who do the best predicting this year’s Emmys line-up), and one of three contest prizes: $500 for first place, $300 for second place, and $200 for third place. Prizes will be bestowed as gift certificates to be redeemed at Amazon. See our contest rules for more info.

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