After flying high in the ratings and in popular opinion, A&E's "Duck Dynasty" is falling hard and fast.
This week's episode dropped to 6.7 million viewers and a 2.9 rating in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo. That's its lowest rating since December 2012. That comes after last week's Season 5 premiere drew 8.5 million, far below the 12 million who tuned in to the Season 4 opening.
The viewership decline appears to be tied to the controversy that bedeviled the show last month, after family patriarch Phil Robertson made derogatory comments about gays and African-Americans. In an interview with GQ, Robertson 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."
The ensuing uproar, led by GLAAD, prompted A&E to suspend the star, but the network later reinstated him after backlash from conservatives. A "Boycott A&E Until Phil Robertson Is Put Back on Duck Dynasty" Facebook page got 1.6 million likes and a petition at IStandWithPhil.com received over 265,000 signatures.
Hi @aetv, are you aware the Robertsons don't need you? You need them. Good luck digging yourself out of this one.— Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) December 19, 2013
In the last year, "Duck Dynasty" has become a pop-culture juggernaut. Its Season 4 premiere was the highest-rated cable reality series in history. And the show was second only to "The Walking Dead" among adults 18-49 — out of all series on television.
The Robertsons, who were already wealthy from their successful duck-hunting gear, extended their empire to books (three New York Times best sellers) and merchandise (a lucrative deal with Walmart, among others). Forbes estimates that the family is worth $400 million.
So, is that empire in jeopardy? Definitely not. Walmart did not comment on Robertson's remarks and "Duck Dynasty"-related items are still selling briskly.
The only loser seems to be A&E, which is caught between a rock and a hard place — LGBT supporters want to boycott the show, as do supporters of Robertson's views who want the network to apologize to him.
I was watching @AETV when I saw a Duck Dynasty commercial. It made me turn off the show. I will not support a network who pays homophobes!— Tim Franklin (@TimFranklin13) January 20, 2014
Glad Duck Dynasty is back, but I kinda wish they would have moved to a different network. BUT theyre back on and beggers can't be choosers.— Sassy Southern Belle (@BelleByHisGrace) January 23, 2014
But A&E has no reason to panic... yet. As Variety pointed out, ratings were starting to cool at the tail end of last season and are on par with ratings from last winter. Still, if the trend continues, this "Duck's" goose could be cooked.