A&E Network’s suspension of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson over controversial remarks about gays is generating noise from both sides of the aisle, putting the network in a difficult position as it contemplates Robertson’s future on the show.
The future of the ratings-rich show about a Louisiana family running a successful duck-calling outfit is in question after A&E on Dec. 18 indefinitely suspended arguably the show’s most famous character after Robertson was quoted in GQ declared that, as a man, vaginal sex with a woman was "more desirable" than anal sex with a man.
The comments were immediately denounced by pro-gay groups such as GLADD, and A&E released a statement announcing it was immediately placing Robertson under hiatus from filming. “We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ … His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.”
In the days following in the days after the suspension, there’s been a conservative political and media groundswell of Robertson supporters, including former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Fox News personality Sean Hannity. Also, several petitions calling for the reinstatement of Robertson have launched online, including one from faith-based site FaithDrivenConsumer.com, whose #IStandWithPhil petition has drawn more than 124,000 signatures.
The Robertson family Thursday night also supported its patriarch, saying in a statement released on the family’s duckcommander.com website that “we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm” and it 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 run of installments – 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 that 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 [Phil Robertson] was unfairly targeted, and that will translate into a lot of viewership when it returns.”