‘Duck Dynasty’: A&E Ends Phil Robertson Suspension; Aims to Turn Controversy into Teachable Moment
A+E Networks has maneuvered its way out of the “Duck Dynasty” controversy surrounding its top-rated show by consulting with the key advocacy groups in a position to raise the loudest ruckus over its response to the inflammatory remarks made by Phil Robertson about homosexuals and African-Americans, among other topics.
A&E said Friday it would lift the suspension against the family patriarch implemented on Dec. 18 after Robertson’s remarks in an interview with GQ made national headlines, exposing the lingering divide in the nation over the acceptance of homosexuality.
In the ensuing days, A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc and other top execs had extensive conversations with the Robertson clan about how to move forward with the show after the decision to suspend Phil Robertson sparked a furor about his right to voice his opinions.
The execs also kept in close contact with reps for GLAAD, the NAACP and other orgs in an effort to find a path to allowing the show to continue. The rest of the family issued a statement in support of Phil on Dec. 19, suggesting that they would not continue filming without him. But it was notable that none of the family members took to the media to bash A+E for the suspension, despite ample opportunities.
Before A+E announced its reversal on Robertson’s suspension and plans for a PSA campaign aimed at promoting tolerance, GLAAD and NAACP were apprised of the cabler’s decision — ensuring that there would be no immediate backlash from the two prominent advocacy orgs. The Robertson family’s reps at WME were also involved in the discussions, none of which were held face to face because of the holiday timing of the flap.
“After discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming ‘Duck Dynasty’ later this spring with the entire Robertson family,” the network said in a statement.
Robertson was placed on “indefinite hiatus” for comparing homosexuals to animals, saying “start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”
On Friday, A+E sought to continue to distance itself from those remarks while arguing that the show is not about politics or the cultural issues but the homespun antics of the Louisiana-based family that made it big selling duck hunting equipment.
“We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article,” the statement said, “and reiterate that they are not views we hold. But ‘Duck Dynasty’ is not a show about one man’s views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family… a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about.”
The sheer volume of punditry and commentary unleashed by Robertson’s comments and A+E’s initial response added urgency to the company’s need to find a resolution to the standoff with the family. Numerous conservative critics and orgs cited the suspension as an example of the media’s anti-Christian bias given the religious foundation of Robertson’s expressed beliefs, while GLAAD and other advocacy orgs condemned the sentiment behind his remarks as intolerant and highly insensitive.
The PSA campaign amounts to A+E’s attempt to turn the turmoil into a teachable moment, and also provide some cover for a decision that will undoubtedly prompt criticism from some quarters. The decision to reinstate Phil Robertson to the show may dampen A+E’s standing with some in the creative community, where tolerance and respect for gay rights are considered a given, not a subject for debate.
Details of the PSA campaign, which will run across A&E, History, Lifetime and other A+E outlets, were sparse on Friday. There was no word if any of the “Duck Dynasty” family members would appear in the spots, or if any of the issues would be addressed in the future episodes of the show.
A+E vowed that the campaign would promote “unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company, and the values found in ‘Duck Dynasty.’ “
The uproar over Phil Robertson is likely to give a boost to the upcoming season of “Duck Dynasty,” which unspools Jan. 15 with episodes filmed long before the GQ article hit. Not that the show needs much help in drawing an audience. Viewership soared during the past year to average 13 million for the most recent season. Merchandise sales have also been part of the success story, with Forbes estimating that the show has sold $400 million to date.