That didn’t take long — Phil Robertson is officially back on “Duck Dynasty.”
A week after A&E suspended its reality star for making controversial comments about homosexuality and race relations (after which outraged petitions were signed, politicians weighed in, and members of Robertson’s family said they couldn’t imagine filming the hit show without him), the network has changed its mind.
“After discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming ‘Duck Dynasty’ later this spring with the entire Robertson family,” the network said in a statement released late Friday on a holiday weekend.
Robertson, 67, a self-proclaimed “Bible thumper,” made headlines last week when an interview with GQ went viral. In it, he talked about homosexuality as a sin, as well as race relations in the pre-civil rights era South. Asked by the magazine what he considered sinful, 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.”
Amid outcry from the NAACP and gay-rights advocacy groups, the network distanced itself from Robertson, putting him on an indefinite filming hiatus and saying that his views “in no way reflect those of A&E Networks.”
A little more than a week later, Robertson is back on the show. In its statement Friday, the network emphasized again that Robertson’s views aren’t in line with A&E’s “core values,” which are “centered around creativity, inclusion and respect.”
“But,” the network said, “ ‘Duck Dynasty’ is not a show about one man’s views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family . . . a family that America has come to love.”
Apparently so, because immediately after A&E announced his suspension, petitions signed by hundreds of thousands of viewers surfaced, demanding the network bring Robertson back. Politicians including former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal jumped in to defend him, citing free speech. Twitter lit up with the hashtag #IStandWithPhil.
The Robertson family fired back at the network’s suspension, saying that despite Phil’s “coarse” language, he was just expressing the teachings of his religious faith — and that they could not “imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm.”
That was bad news for A&E, given that “Duck Dynasty” is the most popular show in network history. Following a multimillionaire family in Louisiana that runs a successful duck call manufacturing business, the series consistently breaks cable ratings records, with about 12 million people tuning in at the beginning of last season.
The timing of the controversy had little impact on the television show. It wasn’t filming when A&E issued the suspension, and the new season — which premieres Jan. 15 — was already completed.
Along with the announcement on Robertson’s reinstatement Friday, A&E said it will launch a public-service campaign attached to the controversy. “We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people,” according to the statement. “A message that supports our core values as a company, and the values found in ‘Duck Dynasty.’ ”