UPDATE, FRIDAY 6:20 PM: Earlier this week, TV industry sages forecast that if A&E wanted the Robertson family to continue starring in the network’s cash cow Duck Dynasty, after the network put patriarch Phil on indefinite hiatus over incendiary comments he’d made in a GQ interview (the family issued a statement saying they were standing with Phil) the network would have to “eat crow” — and forecast A&E would “do it right after Christmas.”
Which, of course, is exactly what happened! And here’s what the industry is saying about that, via Twitter:
- Thomas Roberts, MSNBC anchor: Just dialing into
#DuckDynasty update. Homophobia will not be conquered overnight & certainly not aided by A&E execs.
- Joe Scarborough: As predicted early. Biggest bias in LA is $$$.
- Dan Abrams: But talk about trying to bury the #DuckDynasty news. . after 5p on the Friday before New Years.
- W. Kamau Bell: “Hardest 9 days of my gay hating life.” – Phil Robertson on A&E lifting his suspension from Duck Dynasty.
- Billy Eichner, creator of Funny Or Die’s Fuse TV game show Billy on the Street: Very excited A&E is resuming Duck Dynasty with Phil Robertson. We need more ignorant homophobic racists who probably hate women on the air.
- Andy Lassner, Ellen exec producer: A&E has lifted its suspension of Phil Robertson. Family & friends are said to be gathering tonight to celebrate inside his beard.
- Justin Stangel, Late Show with David Letterman exec prod: A&E lifts Phil Robertson’s suspension from
#DuckDynasty. Thank God! I can finally leave my Y2K bunker
More to come…
PREVIOUS, TUESDAY, 10:30 AM: Five Things A&E Did Wrong has become the hot parlor game among TV industry execs at holiday get-togethers. Cable news network execs, meanwhile, are giving thanks for the cultural warfare that has erupted, during this traditionally slow news period, over A&E’s decision to suspend Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson for comparing homosexuality to bestiality in a GQ interview even Phil’s family has acknowledged was “coarse.”
A&E has been dazedly dog paddling since the interview came out and its hit show suddenly stopped quacking like all those other homespun reality series on TV and began Bible-thumping like the religious parable it actually is.
In case you’re one of the many who spend the holiday season hiding under a flat rock: A conservative Christian group has hit 210,000 signatures and counting on its petition demanding A&E immediately reinstate Phil, one retailer has reversed its decision to yank Duck Dynasty products off its shelves because of customer blowback, and a big-box retailer can’t keep up with customer demand for Duck Dynasty merchandise. Conservative possible presidential candidates are taking Phil to their bosom, and he invited the Daily Mail to his church on Sunday to witness him preaching: ‘Jesus will take sins away. If you’re a homosexual, he’ll take it away. If you’re an adulterer, if you’re a liar, what’s the difference? If you break one sin, you may as well break them all.”
“A rookie mistake.” That’s how one TV industry veteran who’s put in time dealing with rogue reality stars described A&E’s handling of its Duck Dynasty nightmare.
“It’s very difficult to keep these people in check then they get famous,” the exec noted, in A&E’s defense. Particularly when the star already has amassed a large pile of money making bird-calling devices for hunters, believes he has a religious calling, and isn’t afraid to lose his TV series. A&E is charting new territory, execs with whom we spoke acknowledged. “You’ve got an immovable object who actually believes he has God on his side. He’s a multimillionaire who lives in a swamp!” one industry image specialist acknowledged. “I don’t’ think he gives a flying fuck whether or not [A&E] agrees with him. I don’t think there’s any fear in this guy.” Ditto the rest of the Robertson family, who quickly issued a statement suggesting they will not do the show without Phil.
Our panel of industry execs is still scratching their heads in re why the A&E let Phil Robertson, a guy whose religious beliefs were well known to the network, within 100 yards of a GQ interview.
“Who the hell let them talk to GQ in the first place?” one veteran wondered. “This is their biggest show. Are they going to get a bigger audience by talking to some snarky reporter from GQ? Where is the upside? There is none. Zero.”
Chimed in another: “GQ is not a Duck Dynasty-friendly place, and [A&E] knew they had talent that talks and goes off the reservation. What the fuck you gonna get from GQ? It’s not going to get you a new audience. Then they left him alone with the reporter.” (A&E had a rep on site, but the reporter nonetheless managed to squeeze in some alone time with Phil, during which he cut loose, according to media reports).
Robertson, on the other hand, is guilty only of consistent behavior. “He has not flinched. He’s very consistent in his opinion. He has gone off [A&E’s] script, but he’s perfectly on-script for him,” said one TV exec. “There was some sincerity to the show – unless it was all bullshit. Turns out, it wasn’t.”
In addition to Know Your Star, execs we spoke with said the basic tenets of Surviving Reality TV Series Hits also include Know Your Show, Know Your Audience — and, last but not least, Get Out Of Your Own Way (aka, Hollywood and New York Are Not the Norm in the Country).
A&E does not appear to have done well on these other points either, according to our experts.
Duck Dynasty isn’t just another of the homespun reality TV shows about swamp people, trailer park people, pickers, hoarders, storage-locker openers, and coupon clippers that litter the TV landscape these days – it’s a religious parable, our pundits noted. “This is a show where, somewhere in every episode they’re saying grace,” noted one. “These people have a certain genuineness to them, even if they did agree to do a reality show.”
Meanwhile, as A&E has learned during the past few days, if it didn’t know it already, a vocal chunk of the show’s audience subscribes to Robertson’s views on the Bible, Christianity, and homosexuality. Putting a show’s star on “hiatus” during the show’s hiatus, and with the next run of 10 Phil-featuring episodes already in the can might have seemed utterly logical from inside the industry, and the jaded press gave the network points for a move that looked like doing something while actually doing not much — and certainly no damage to the franchise. But, to Duck Dynasty’s religious followers, it was a battle cry.
Said one exec, “Their statement … should have been simply along the lines of, ‘The opinion stated by Phil is his opinion only; it’s not the opinion of A&E’ — and let it go.”
Added another: “Gay groups and others can come after [the network], but that’s a lot better to deal with than to have the stars of your [hit] show want to take it elsewhere for not supporting them.”
Ironically, A&E’s Duck Dynasty holiday marathon, with episodes that feature Phil, has not placated Phil’s fans. Weirdly, it’s enraged them and caused them to accuse A&E of a) hypocrisy and b) putting business ahead of principles. That’s a bit thick. Industry execs, on the flip side, commend A&E for staying the course on the marathon.
So, where does A&E go from here?
“Someone’s going to have to back down,” said one industry vet, predicting it’s not going to be the Robertsons. “Either [A+E Networks CEO] Nancy [Dubuc] says, ‘This is not the position of the network and we respect Phil’s religious beliefs,’ and we all move on from there, or I don’t think the show survives on A&E,” the source continued.
“They’re going to have to apologize,” agreed another. “If they want them back, they’re going to have to eat crow. They’ll probably do it right after Christmas. Look for a note sometime over the next week and a half.”