The A&E Network announced that Phil Robertson, who was suspended for remarks made about gays and blacks in a GQ interview, will rejoin his family in filming the hit reality show Duck Dynasty.
The network’s walkback of their original decision to suspend Robertson indefinitely was due to a massive backlash against A&E by conservatives, who saw Robertson being muzzled for his religious beliefs.
The network’s statement on Robertson’s reinstatement could easily have been written the day after the story broke. The fact that it wasn’t represents a strategic error in judgment by network executives who apparently feared a gay backlash more than they cared what ordinary people — who make up the bulk of Duck Dynasty’s audience — thought about what Robertson said.
An online petition to bring Mr. Robertson back to the show garnered nearly 250,000 signatures while a Facebook page in support of the Robertson family patriarch received 1.5 million likes. Numbers like this make television networks sit up and take notice.
In its statement, A&E said: “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.”
The network’s ratings suffered after news of Robertson’s suspension, averaging 1.51 million prime time viewers from Dec. 16-22, down 13 percent from the same week in 2012. The show is often one of the most-watched cable programs, with its recent Christmas special grabbing 8.9 million viewers.
The Robertson family had released a statement saying it was “in discussions with A&E to see what (the suspension) means for the future of” the program, fueling speculation that A&E’s top show could get canceled or leave for another network.
Robertson, 67, of West Monroe, La., whose invention of a new type of duck call launched the family business, has not addressed the controversy beyond the statement he issued last week: