duckDid the controversy surrounding Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson take a toll on the show’s appeal? A&E’s flagship reality series clocked 8.5 million viewers Wednesday night, snapping a streak of ratings records and posting its first season-to-season drop. Among adults 18-49, the premiere averaged 4.2 million viewers, down 33%. Those are still huge numbers for a cable series, but the Season 5 opener was down from the show’s Season 4 debut, which drew nearly 12 million to become the No. 1-rated nonfiction series telecast in cable history. It edged the Season 4 finale, which was watched by 8.4 million.  More recently, the one-hour Duck Dynasty Christmas special logged nearly 9 million viewers.

The two back-to-back episodes were the first appearance on A&E of the Robertson family since patriarch Phil’s controversial comments about gay men and blacks in a GQ interview that caused A&E to suspend him. After the rest of the family indicated they would not do the show without him, and religious organizations and a legion of conservatives stood by him, A&E reversed its decision, lifting Phil’s suspension.

In the season kickoff, Uncle Si determined Air Bud is a better movie than the Bourne franchise, Si came down with “bird flu” caused by Si-crobes, the Robertson women plan a party and, as promised by Willie Robertson on Fox News Channel ‘s New Year’s Eve telecast, he hired a personal assistant —  his wife’s cousin.  There was no discussion about the GQ interview and aftermath. That’s because the episodes – and virtually all of this spring season – had been shot before the article came out and A&E took Phil out behind the woodshed and slapped his wrists.