UPDATED: Facing a firestorm of criticism that has shown little signs of subsiding, A&E parent company A+E Networks just issued a statement (read it below) announcing that the flagship A&E reality series Duck Dynasty will resume filming in the spring with the entire Robertson family — including patriarch Phil Robertson. The company put him on an “indefinite hiatus” on December 18 following the controversial comments he made in an interview to GQ. Duck Dynasty had been on a scheduled hiatus when the bombshell comments were made public. It had been slated to resume production in the spring, so today’s decision, which A+E said was made “after discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups,” reverts to the show’s original filming schedule. The groups whose cooperation A+E sought are said to include GLAAD, which blasted Robertson’s initial anti-gay comments, and NAACP.
Duck Dynasty has nine of the 10 episodes for the upcoming fifth season with Phil in the can. It will film the final 10th episode before proceeding with production on the following cycle. In its statement today, A+E referred to the December 19 statement by the Robertson family in which they admitted that “some of Phil’s unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible” but stressed that “Phil would never incite or encourage hate.” In the same statement, the family stood firmly behind their patriarch, indicating they would rather walk away from the show then film without Phil.
The stakes in the stand-off were high, with both A&E and the Robertsons poised to lose tens and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars, though the family had already amassed a fortune, emboldening them to make a stand. Since the controversy erupted, Phil Robertson has been defiant, reiterating his stance on gay relationships at a Bible study group. He has drawn massive support from conservatives, both politicians and regular folk, with a petition asking for his reinstatement amassing more than 250,000 signatures as of this morning. Cracker Barrel’s attempt to pull some items carrying the Phil Robertson brand Duck Commander created such strong backlash that the stores quickly restocked the items. The controversy pitted religious believes vs. tolerance and equality. It exposed the deep divisions in the country, and A+E said it wants to come out of it “promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people” with a campaign across all of its networks that the company hopes the Robertsons will be part of. The brouhaha further raised awareness for Duck Dynasty, already a monster hit, some two weeks before its fifth-season premiere, which would likely shatter more ratings records. Here’s A+E’s statement:
As a global media content company, A+E Networks’ core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect. We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people’s home and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principals.
That is why we reacted so quickly and strongly to a recent interview with Phil Robertson. While Phil’s comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs, and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the “coarse language” he used and the mis-interpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would “never incite or encourage hate.” We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article, 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.
So 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.
We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company, and the values found in Duck Dynasty. These PSAs will air across our entire portfolio.