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Burning Question: How Did 'Duck Dynasty' Become Such a Huge Hit This Year?

Leslie Gornstein
Yahoo TV
December 16, 2013

I know, right? You’d think that the entire country settled in for deep-fried crawdad-stuffed mallards this Thanksgiving instead of turkey, the way the Robertson family has taken over American culture. And by “taken over,” I mean this: record-setting ratings, such as the 11.8 million folks who tuned in to "Duck Dynasty's" fourth season premiere earlier this year. (That one episode became the No. 1 nonfiction series telecast in the entire history of cable tee-vee, and also claimed more members of the coveted young-adult demographic that night than, well, anythin’.)

The mania over all things "Duck Dynasty" has spread beyond just TV, though. The Robertson family has done it all this year: guest stints on late-night talk shows and sitcoms; greeting cards; book deals; a wine line; a Christmas album and loads of gimmickry from headphones to coolers to rain boots to child-size ATVs — wrapped in camouflage, of course. The family’s Louisiana hometown of West Monroe has even seen a boost in tourism, just because of, essentially, four guys and their very entertaining family-business dealings.

In all, we’re talking a $400 million brand here, chilluns. (Get thee to Walmart or Target if you want to see just how huge "Duck Dynasty" really is.)

[Related: The 'Duck Dynasty' Men's Path Back From Drugs and Despair]

Why all the fuss?

Analysts credit the series’ not-so-obvious universality: The Robertsons may seem like a bunch of bush-bearded hayseeds, but their look belies a bunch of quick wits — or maybe just very smart reality producers — and the kind of multi-generational story that attracts city slickers just as well as bread-basket Americans.

According to social media research firm Fizziology, most of the online conversation about last week’s show came not from the South, but rather Los Angeles and the Big Apple.

“Among the first critics to embrace the show were the New York critics,” Ron Simon of the Paley Center for Media says. “Beneath all the redneck qualities, this is an aspirational show for families that stay together like the Americana of the past — that classic multi-generational family that can get along and work in a family business.”

The fact that the family is a natural fit for social media doesn’t hurt, either. Per Fizziology, nearly 40 percent of post-episode online chatter comes in the form of retweets of family member or official show accounts.

[Related: Camo Not Required: 'Duck Dynasty' Commandeers Yahoo TV's Instagram]

One other key factor: complexity. The show delves deeper than the simplistic boots-n-camo facade may suggest.

“You know, there are all kinds of interesting subtexts within the show,” Simon says, “namely the tensions of old and new — a younger generation that’s upwardly mobile, and then there’s old Phil, who questions all that.

“It speaks to the larger, very American question: Do you aspire to something more, or do you stay with the culture you’ve grown up with?”

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Leslie Gornstein is an entertainment writer and the host of the weekly Hollywood gossip podcast The Fame Fatale.