A&E’s ‘Dynasty’ Dilemma

A&E Network’s suspension of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson over controversial remarks about gays is generating noise from both sides of the political aisle, putting the network in a difficult position as it contemplates his future on the show.

The future of the ratingsrich show about a Louisiana family running a successful duck-calling manufacturer is in question after A&E last Tuesday indefinitely suspended Robertson, arguably the show’s most famous character, after he was quoted in GQ magazine saying that, as a man, vaginal sex with a woman was “more desirable” than anal sex with a man and that homosexuality is a sin.

The comments were immediately denounced by pro-gay groups such as GLAAD, and A&E last Wednesday (Dec. 18) released a statement announcing it was immediately placing Robertson on hiatus from filming. “His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.”

The days following the suspension have seen been a conservative political and media groundswell of Robertson supporters, including former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity. Also, several online petitions calling for Robertson’s reinstatement have launched, including one from faith-based site FaithDrivenConsumer.com, whose #IStand- WithPhil petition had drawn more than 124,000 signatures at press time last week.

The Robertson family last Thursday night (Dec. 19) also supported its patriarch. A statement released on the family’s duckcommander.com website said, “We cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm” and the family is “in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty.”

A&E officials would not provide further comment on the controversy at press time.

The hit show, which averaged more than 10 million viewers for its recently completed fourth season — the most for any reality- based cable series — is expected to return Jan. 15 with eight pre-taped episodes, most of which will feature Robertson, according to sources close to the situation.

TV historian Tim Brooks believes the increased awareness of Duck Dynasty via the controversy will most likely propel viewership for the show even higher.

“The show will survive, if not on A&E, on another network,” he said. “It’s an enormously highly-rated show, and the controversy is unusual in that a lot of people think that [Robertson] was unfairly targeted, and that will translate into a lot of viewership when it returns.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.