Crisis experts say A&E should come forward and better address the future of Duck Dynasty, its multi-million franchise that has been in the crosshairs of advocacy groups over anti-gay and racist comments made by family patriarch Phil Robertson.
“A&E did react quickly with the suspension, but it leaves you hanging a bit with what’s next,” says James Bates of Sitrick and Co., a Los Angeles-based crisis firm. “Then the family stood its ground. It looks like they are at an impasse now.”
After Robertson’s quotes about gays and African-Americans went viral, A&E announced that the 67-year-old old star of the net’s most-watched reality show was placed on indefinite hiatus. The statement made no mention of how it will impact the show’s season four return on Jan. 15, though a spokesman has told reporters that Duck Dynasty will return — it just won’t shoot more episodes with Phil Robertson. Nine of the planned 10 episodes have already been filmed and will feature the patriarch.
That one statement may not be enough though, warns one branding expert. “You really don’t want this story going on,” says David E. Johnson the CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC, a public relations and branding agency. “Remember when the Tiger Woods story came out and the media got caught up in it during the holiday period when its slow for news? It dominated many news cycles. The same thing will happen with A&E and Duck Dynasty unless they get past this.”
Addressing Robertson’s longterm future with the show would be best, experts say, since both A&E and the Robertson family have issued statements that can be misinterpreted. The network only said it has “placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely” while the family responded by saying “we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm.” So is he gone or not? Will the family do the show with or without him?
Robertson also released a statement of his own that was short on contrition. “I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior,” he said. “My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the Bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”
Says Bates, “if the show is going to air, it really would be better if they got the family on board, and together, say they were sorry that people were offended and that they also undertand people feel strongly about his right to expression.”
At the very least, the network should prepare an episode for the upcoming season that addresses the brouhaha, Johnson said. “Bring the controversy front and center Let the ratings decide [the show's fate],” he said.
The controversy may be riling up fans but it hasn’t turned off advertisers like Under Armour apparel, which has vowed to stick with the show. The company’s camouflage is featured in program.