Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson came under fire after making anti-gay remarks in December 2013, prompting A&E to temporarily suspend him. Less than a week later, A&E and the Robertson family jointly announced that Phil Robertson would remain on the series during its fifth season, with no impact on production. The immediate uproar over Robertson’s incendiary comments, made during an interview with GQ, surprised producers Gurney Productions.
"I don’t think anyone expected it to be that kind of a reaction and get that much attention, so no one was prepared with what this really meant, what to say," Duck Dynasty executive producer Deirdre Gurney said during The Hollywood Reporter Reality Roundtable. “We were out of it as the production company. When this happens with talent or the network, it’s really the network’s job [to handle it]. We make it for them, but it’s their show -- it’s their job to decide how they want to handle it and what they want to do. The hard thing with that was it happened over Christmas holiday."
Gurney stayed mum during the ordeal, and admitted that being quiet was a difficult task.
"I wanted to be able to speak and explain, but we couldn’t," she said. "We know our talent. I know Phil Robertson. I know his beliefs. I know how he treats a crew that has several gay people on it and people of different races and people from all different places."
Panelist Tim Gunn (Project Runway) then chimed in, asking Gurney, "Are you saying he didn’t make the comments?"
"He made them, but he doesn’t deny who he is. He has beliefs and stands by them. But that isn’t how he treats people -- it is what he thinks. I think there’s a separation between what he thinks and how he thinks people should be treated. I don’t think he was saying anything about how people should be treated," she said, claiming she hadn’t heard Robertson make comments like that before.
"How I felt was, 'I wish I could explain to people the person I know.' When someone makes a comment to the press and things are taken out of context or reporters are dealing with people who don’t have media training and aren’t used to this and they’re maybe, at times, in general cornered into saying something that someone thinks is salacious or wants to make a headline out of."
The Real World executive producer Jonathan Murray wasn’t keen on how the situation was handled, referring to the network's statement distancing itself from Duck Dynasty when it said the comments were "not views we hold."
"Unfortunately, the network didn’t play it out. They didn’t look down the road as to the wisest course of action," he said. "The worst thing you can do as a network is to say something and then take it back. Ultimately, the viewers decide whether they’re comfortable watching that person or not. It’s tricky when someone is couching their beliefs in their religious beliefs. Don’t people have a right to believe something in their religion? It’s a fine line."
Jeff Probst (Survivor), Brent Montgomery (Pawn Stars) and Carson Daly (The Voice) also took part in THR’s Reality Roundtable, moderated by executive producer Matthew Belloni and senior editor Stacey Wilson.