The Robertson family, a clan who originally made their fortune in a business making duck calls and other hunting-related products, has been a reality television staple since 2012, when their series Duck Dynasty began airing on A&E. After 11 seasons, the Robertsons are calling it quits, according to a video announcement the family made after this week’s season premiere.
“This will be our final season,” Jase Robertson said. “After five years we’ve decided as a family for this to be the final chapter of the ‘Duck Dynasty’ series.”
Si Robertson added: “May God bless each and every one of you.”
The video hints at future specials, and the family cheers at the end, either in excitement that they successfully completed the announcement or in relief that they won’t soon have to live under the glare of the spotlight again.
Why did America fall in love with the Louisiana-based Robertsons? Here was a family who exuded a folksy charm and redneck humor, who walked a genuine journey of faith, who loved each other deeply and unashamedly, whose antics belied intelligence and cultural savvy and—most of all—who didn’t care one bit what others thought of them.
One of the most striking features of the Robertsons—other than their appearance—was their committed Christian faith. The family prayed and talked openly about Jesus on the show, and they walked the walk, the entire cast attending the same church where patriarch Phil has served as an elder for years.
A&E wasn’t always keen on the presence of faith on the show, as The Gospel Coalition noted:
Although the family is often shown praying at the end of each episode, Phil Robertson says that the show’s producers are frequently uncomfortable with the family’s strong Christian faith. “They pretty much cut out most of the spiritual things,” Robertson told The Christian Chronicle. “We say them, but they just don’t run them on the show.”
Americans enjoyed Duck Dynasty—to the tune of as many as 11.8 million at the show’s peak—as the series followed the Robertson clan through wacky scenarios and endearing slice-of-life vignettes. So much of what took place on the show came across as scripted, or at least rehearsed. But that fact didn’t seem to matter. New York Times reporter Neil Genzlinger wrote about this phenomenon:
That’s hardly rare — most reality shows are staged or at least steered toward a preplanned result, of course. But the Robertsons were unusual in that they freely admitted it.
“Guided reality” is the phrase they used. The episodes didn’t simply follow the Robertsons around in their daily lives; the producers would often sketch out the parameters of a situation and have the family live it. What made the show work so well was that the Robertsons, fitting the Eastern elite’s image of hicks, were in fact savvy media manipulators, excellent improvisers and telegenic as heck.
And they seemed to intuit that although many of the show’s episodes were obvious setups, no one would care. “Duck Dynasty” sensed that viewers would happily embrace the reality that they wanted, even if it was a manipulated or outright invented version of reality.
Phil Robertson generated controversy in 2013, when he talked about his views on homosexuality in an interview with GQ. Asked about sin, Phil said:
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 says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. 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.”
The comment led to a campaign to force A&E to cancel the show, but the network wouldn’t do so. Instead, Phil endured a suspension, and the show went on.
Eventually, the ratings dropped, leading us to this week’s news. But what happened? In the same GQ interview that stirred up all the controversy, Phil alluded to his knowledge that the show wouldn’t last forever: