- 12/28/2013 by Andy Fixmer (Bloomberg News)
A&E Television Networks LLC lifted the suspension of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson and said it will resume production of the popular cable television series.
A&E, which suspended Robertson earlier this month for his remarks about homosexuality in GQ magazine, will air a national public-service campaign promoting “unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people,” according to an e-mailed statement yesterday from the New York-based network.
“He and his family have publicly stated they regret the ‘coarse language’ he used and the misinterpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article,” A&E said. “He also made it clear he would ‘never incite or encourage hate.’”
The decision allows A&E and the Robertson family to move ahead with one of cable television’s most-watched shows, a program seen by an average of 14.6 million people an episode, according to Nielsen data. The series produced almost $80 million of ad revenue for A&E this year, according to Kantar Media, and about $400 million in merchandise sales, Forbes said.
“By defining the ‘undefined suspension,’ A&E has created a win-win solution to a potentially fatal decision which could have meant the end of ‘Duck Dynasty’ and would have been a lose-lose proposition for all involved,” Porter Bibb, a managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, a New York-based merchant bank, said in an e-mail.
Robertson, the 67-year-old head of a Louisiana family that makes duck-hunting gear, was suspended indefinitely by A&E on Dec. 18 after telling GQ magazine that homosexuals were akin to adulterers, the greedy, drunkards and swindlers and would not “inherit the kingdom of God.” A&E is co-owned by Walt Disney Co. and closely held Hearst Corp.
Yesterday, the network again disavowed Robertson’s comments, saying its values are “centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect.” A&E, in announcing its decision to stay with the show, also said many episodes of the program “reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness.”
Michael Feeney, an A&E spokesman, declined to comment beyond the statement. The Robertson family didn’t respond to a request for comment left with the office of Willie Robertson, a cast member and chief executive officer of the Duck Commander business.
“It’s been a win-win for everyone but those who care about minority rights, and I don’t mean just gay rights,” said David Craig, a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in Los Angeles and a former A&E executive.
Craig, also a media activist focused on gay rights, cited remarks about pre-civil rights era blacks that Robertson made in GQ. He described the Robertsons’ subsequent statements as “a regret in terms of language, not a regret in terms of meaning.”
The Robertson family started their TV career producing hunting videos and appeared on The Outdoor Channel in 2009 in a show called “Benelli Presents Duck Commander,” according to IMDB.com. The family sent a highlight reel around to TV networks that drew A&E’s interest.
The family, including the co-stars, said Dec. 19 on their website duckcommander.com that they couldn’t imagine “Duck Dynasty” going forward without their patriarch and that they were in talks with A&E about the show’s future.
The parties had time to work out the solution. A&E has recorded enough shows for the season that is scheduled to begin next month, the New York Times reported on Dec. 20. Shooting for episodes after that wouldn’t normally begin until spring.
The Robertsons drew support from religious groups backing the patriarch’s right to express his beliefs. Faith2Action, a North Royalton, Ohio, group that promotes family values, introduced MailtheDuck.com, which lets members of the public send a postcard or spend $7 to buy and mail a rubber duck to A&E in protest of Robertson’s suspension.
GLAAD, an advocacy group for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons, issued a statement in response to the lifting of Robertson’s suspension.
“Phil Robertson should look African American and gay people in the eyes and hear about the hurtful impact of praising Jim Crow laws and comparing gay people to terrorists,” the group said yesterday in an e-mail. “If dialogue with Phil is not part of next steps, then A&E has chosen profits over African American and gay people -- especially its employees and viewers.”
The cast of Duck Dynasty on "The View." Photographer: Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images