By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES Dec 27 Cable network A&E said on
Friday it was bringing back family patriarch Phil Robertson to
the hit reality show "Duck Dynasty" after fans protested his
suspension over anti-gay remarks and big-name corporate sponsors
stuck by the series.
Robertson's remarks to GQ magazine and his subsequent
suspension by A&E sparked a nationwide debate over tolerance and
religion, with conservative politicians and fans saying that
Robertson's beliefs were consistent with the Bible.
"As a global media content company, A&E Networks' core
values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual
respect," A&E said in a statement released late Friday in the
midst of the holiday season.
"We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited
into people's homes and we operate with a strong sense of
integrity and deep commitment to these principles."
It was a quick reversal for the network that is jointly
owned by Walt Disney Co. and privately held Hearst Corp,
but the move was not entirely surprising, given the financial
commitment at stake. The controversy was also seen as a test for
the entertainment industry's appeal to audiences in the
heartland of America.
"Duck Dynasty" ranks among the most-watched cable television
programs and averages about 8 million viewers per episode. Its
fifth season is slated to begin on Jan. 15. The show's fourth
season debuted in August to 11.8 million viewers, a record for a
cable nonfiction series, according to the network.
"Duck Dynasty" sponsors and retailers selling branded
merchandise, such as Target and Walmart, also
stuck with the show, although they did not pick sides in the
Restaurant chain Cracker Barrel notably bowed to
customer pressure last weekend and restocked its Phil
Robertson-themed merchandise after initially pulling it from
"Duck Dynasty" merchandise, which ranges from sporting goods
and apparel to camouflage furniture, has brought in some $400
million in sales, according to Forbes magazine.
By lifting Robertson's suspension after nine days, A&E
assures that the 67-year-old will not miss production of the
series' sixth season and staves off any potential mutiny by the
remainder of the family if he were to be kept off the show.
Robertson, the leader of the backwater Louisiana clan on the
reality show about hunting, fishing and domestic squabbles, was
put on indefinite "hiatus" on Dec. 18 by A&E for his remarks to
GQ characterizing homosexuality as sinful behavior.
"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph from there,"
Robertson said when asked what is sinful. "Bestiality, sleeping
around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those
A&E said it would also air a national public service
campaign "promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all
people" on all its affiliated networks, which include the
History Channel and Lifetime among others.
Although Robertson never apologized for his comments, his
family did say they regretted his "coarse language," which
included graphic descriptions of male and female anatomy.
The family also said it would not continue with the show
without its patriarch and was in talks with the network.
A&E said at the time it was disappointed after reading
Robertson's remarks, which it added were his personal views and
did not reflect those of the network.
The network's quick move to suspend Robertson hours after
the GQ story appeared online also stood in contrast to fellow
cable networks The Food Network and MSNBC, which both waited
days before recently parting with Southern food doyen Paula Deen
and actor Alec Baldwin, respectively, after they both admitted
to using slurs.
Vocal opposition from "Duck Dynasty" fans was swift in
coming and an online petition started by Faith Driven Consumer,
a group that connects Christian shoppers with faith-compatible
companies, gained more than 260,000 signatures since Robertson's
Robertson's suspension also elicited strong reaction from
across the political spectrum, with conservative politicians
defending Robertson as a victim of political correctness.
Early in the controversy, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal
lent his support to Robertson and his family, who turned their
animal-call company Duck Commander into a hunting industry
leader and helped boost tourism to the state.
"I'm glad to hear that A&E came to its senses & recognized
that tolerance of religious views is more important than
political correctness," he said on Twitter.
"Back on," Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz tweeted in
reference to Robertson.
Gay equality group GLAAD condemned Robertson's comments,
saying he knows nothing about gay people.
"Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a
stain on A&E and his sponsors, who now need to reexamine their
ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and
families," GLAAD said in a statement at the time.
GLAAD could not be reached for comment on Friday.