Days after A&E announced it had decided to end Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson’s involuntary hiatus over remarks he made in a GQ interview – and just days before the hit reality series’ return to A&E’s lineup — the Robertson family and a popular gun manufacturer unveiled a new Duck Commander line of shotguns, semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic pistols, etc.
Willie Robertson, CEO of the family’s Duck Commander, made no reference to the imminent announcement on New Year’s Eve, when he and wife Kori appeared on FNC’s ball-dropping late-night special. The press had hoped for something zippier out of that appearance than the “there will be fun good comedy from the family” and “we’re just glad to be back to work… and A&E and us are fine” script to which Willie stuck like glue no matter how many different ways FNC’s Bill Hemmer and Elisabeth Hasselbeck tried to gin up some headlines with questions about the family’s battle with A&E over Phil’s interview. Kori contributed, “We’re all happy, happy, happy. … The best thing about this show is we get to do it as a family.” The only shred of news Hemmer and Hasselbeck managed to pry out of Willie was the “spoiler” that he hires a “good looking assistant for me…and that will be revealed on the show this year.” Asked how father Phil was celebrating the New Year, and his victory over A&E, Willie said, “I reckon he’s asleep” because it’s duck hunting season and he has to get up early.
Far less coma-inducing talk was to be found in four video ads on the Connecticut-based Mossberg’s web site – though it appears to have crashed since the announcement was made – in which Phil tells viewers, “Do you know what makes me happy ladies and gentlemen? To blow a mallard drake’s head smooth off.” In another, he explains, “Where there’s design, there is a Designer. We were designed to kill ducks.” Duck Commander guns will come in a “waterfowl pattern” camouflage design, and stamped with the slogan: Faith. Family. Ducks – though Mossberg acknowledges not all of the guns are intended for duck hunting. Each gun also comes with an American flag bandana, like that worn by Willie on the cable TV hit.
Willie and Kori appeared live via satellite from Steamboat Springs, CO — their first television appearance following A&E‘s reinstatement of Phil Robertson on the series. Last Friday, A&E announced it had ended its suspension of the Duck Dynasty patriarch nine days after putting him on “hiatus” for an indefinite period due to comments he’d made in a GQ interview. The announcement came eight days after after the rest of the Robertson family, including Willie and Kori, issued a statement indicating they would not do the show without Phil. Robertson’s short suspension was particularly pain-free because it coincided with the show’s on-air hiatus — it’s set to return to the lineup on January 15 — and a scheduled duck-hunting break in filming, set to resume in the spring.
“Back to work!! So proud of all the fans of the show and family. Ole Phil may be a little crude but his heart is good. He’s the Real Deal!” Willie tweeted in response to A&E’s “nevermind” announcement. A&E said it had decided to end Robertson’s hiatus after discussions with his family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups. GLAAD, one of the groups that had spoken out when the GQ interview dropped, didn’t seem any too happy with the network’s decision, saying in a statement: “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. 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.”
In its statement that Phil was out of the Hollywood hoosegow, A&E explained that it made the decision because he and his family had publicly stated they regretted the “coarse language” he used, and the “mis-interpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article,” adding that Phil had “also made it clear he would ‘never incite or encourage hate’.”
In the GQ article profiling the family behind the reality hit, Robertson described his family as “Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television,” and sounded off on among other things homosexuality. “It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me,” Robertson told GQ. “I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” Later, when asked what is sinful, he replied: “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.” He also noted, “Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.” In his GQ interview, Robertson also explained the Japanese attacked the U.S. in WWII because they did not have Jesus, and noted that his personal observations of black Americans in the pre-civil rights South was that they “were happy; no one was singing the blues.” But it was his remarks on homosexuality that got him suspended: “We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. … His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community,” A&E said in announcing Phil’s suspension.
It appears the family is doing what it can to help the media keep the story alive until the show’s return on January 15. Owing to the controversy the Season 5 debut is now certain to outstrip the Season 4 debut, which now stands as the No. 1-rated nonfiction series telecast in cable history with 11.8 million viewers.
From the stars of the GQ interview fracas, A&E has been pretty out-skunked by the Robertson family — tonight’s FNC interview being just the latest example. First there was that ominous statement shortly after A&E put Phil on suspension. Then, in a Christmas day stunt, the extremely press-savvy Phil decided to illustrate one of his comments to GQ in re marriage being for heterosexuals only. In a photo tweeted by his granddaughter, Phil is seen pointing to an apparently new wedding ring on the finger of his wife, Miss Kay, with the caption: “After 50 years of marriage Papaw Phil finally gave Mamaw Kay a wedding ring for Christmas ??”
Duck Dynasty is critically important to A&E. How important? In 2013, Duck Dynasty comprised 29% of A&E’s primetime schedule but accounted for 44% of its primetime 25-54 demo Live+Same Day ratings points. That’s striking given that the network currently has fewer than 30 produced hours of Duck Dynasty to repeat across its primetime schedule – unlike, say, History with its bajillion hours of Pawn Stars. A&E keeps recycling its modest library of Duck Dynasty episodes, and those repeats continue to pull in strong ratings.