A&E Ducks Further Controversy, Reinstates Phil Robertson | Adweek
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A&E Ducks Further Controversy, Reinstates Phil Robertson

Network hopes cooler heads will prevail with production to resume next spring

Phil, Si and Kay Robertson at A&E's 2012 Upfront. | Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for A&E Networks

Call it a Christmas miracle, or simply an attempt to limit the collateral damage that comes with a culture war, but the 10-day feud between A&E and Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson is over.

In a statement issued Friday evening by parent company A+E Networks, the cable channel said it has welcomed Robertson back into the fold, with an eye toward resuming production on the hit reality show sometime in spring 2014.

The network benched Robertson on Dec. 18 after he made inflammatory remarks about gays in an interview with GQ writer Drew Magary.

“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, by way of announcing the detente.

Over the past several days, fans of Robertson and Duck Dynasty have called for a boycott on everything from A&E to part-owner Walt Disney Co. to the network’s sponsors. Because the controversy raged around the subjects about which Americans are particularly passionate—religion, sexuality and politics—what may have otherwise been a scrap between a reality star and a basic-cable network quickly found itself splashed all over the op-ed pages and across social media.

Among the political figures who pledged their support for Robertson were former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. On the other end of the political spectrum, the Reverend Jesse Jackson blasted the Duck Dynasty patriarch, comparing Robertson unfavorably to the driver who ordered Rosa Parks to sit in the back of a Montgomery, Ala., bus nearly 60 years ago.  

In the week following A&E’s decision to place Robertson on what it characterized as an indefinite hiatus, the network experienced a significant decline in ratings.

AETN’s full statement is as follows:

“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 principles.

“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 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.”

While the Robertson family did not issue a statement of its own, it’s unlikely that any of the Duck Dynasty mainstays will be available for further comment until late January at the earliest. Depending on where they’re hunting, duck season in their native Louisiana extends through either Jan. 19 or Jan. 26.

In the meantime, many Robertson supporters seem anything but placated by his reinstatement. The administrator of the “Stand With Phil Robertson” Facebook page on Friday posted a link to a USA Today story about the network’s decision, adding the comment, “This is a win for us, but we’ve got a big battle ahead in the greater picture of this culture war being waged against us!”

Duck Dynasty is the single most important asset in the A&E programming portfolio. Season 4 averaged 9.13 million live-plus-same-day viewers and a 3.9 in the dollar demo, making it the third biggest program on cable behind AMC’s The Walking Dead and ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Through the first three quarters of 2013—a period that includes the entirety of Season 3 and the first six episodes of Season 4—Duck Dynasty generated around $80 million in ad sales, or about 16 percent of the network’s projected $500 million+ net sales for 2013, per Kantar Media estimates.

Season 5 is set to premiere on Jan. 15. Nine of the 10 ordered episodes are already in the can, and Robertson is said to be featured prominently in each of these. The episodes that are to be shot in the spring will likely run in the fall.

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