What now? The off-air Duck Dynasty saga this week has been far more fascinating than any episode of the hit cable series. Unbridled offensive comments. A bold network rebuke. A family pushing back. America’s oldest culture divide, the North and South, inflamed once again, taking to cable news networks and Twitter to argue rather than grabbing muskets. How will it all end? Here’s the four most likely possibilities.
1. Duck Dynasty continues without Phil: What seemed like the obvious outcome just a few days ago given A&E’s announcement that Phil Robertson is suspended “indefinitely” now seems the least likely given the family’s aggressive public counter move yesterday declaring support for the patriarch’s statements and saying the family “cannot imagine” a show without him. For A&E, this must be frustrating, because excising Phil would solve most of their problems — boot off the troublemaker and chive on. But A&E may have made a mistake treating a family like a TV show cast, where you simply ditch one member for stepping out of line. Duck Dynasty may follow a scripted week-to-week narrative, but the family is real enough. A&E’s move to suspend the patriarch — seemingly righteous from a progressive network perspective compared to the usual waffling of major entertainment companies during ugly controversies — may have underestimated the show’s core message and fan appeal emphasizing the values of family and faith. To the show’s fans, the network cast itself in the role of big corporate anti-Christian villain (which is frustrating for A&E Networks insiders since the company gambled on a 10-hour Bible mini-series this year on History). And without Phil Robertson, the series would be inherently a little awkward — having him conveniently out of sight cracks the fragile construction that this is a documentary-style show.
2. A&E cancels Duck Dynasty: Nobody wants this. Not the network, not the family, not the fans. Given the current two pieces of news — A&E wants the show without Phil; the Robertsons refuse — there appears to be no way out. But the Robertsons are not like Paula Deen, Martin Bashir, Alec Baldwin, Dog the Bounty Hunter or others who were kicked off a series after saying controversial statements. Duck Dynasty is the most popular reality show on cable and could return bigger than ever in January (averaging 14.6 million viewers with DVR playback). Plus its success is not easily replicable. This isn’t a cooking show or a talk show where you just plug somebody else into a format. There are many blue collar and Louisiana-based reality TV shows out there, but Duck Dynasty‘s mega-success was a lightning strike that nobody could have predicted. If A&E must choose between swallowing its pride by letting Phil return or losing this huge hit, it’s tough to imagine the network letting Duck fly away.
3. Duck Dynasty goes to another network. The current fourth season, which returns Jan. 15, is basically done (9 out of 10 episodes shot). A&E has an option for at least another season, likely more. If the network and the Robertsons cannot resolve their differences, there’s a slim chance the family might eventually be able to take the show to another network, but that’s a thorny path, legally, if the Robertsons outright refuse to continue doing the show.
4. Duck Dynasty continues with Phil. Here’s one reason why this stand-off is so tough for A&E: The Robertsons are wealthy. They’re not dealing with Kate Gosselin or Honey Boo Boo or Snooki who might really need this paycheck. They’re in a public struggle with multi-millionaire businessmen. You could argue A&E needs Duck Dynasty more than the Robertsons need A&E. What A&E could use is a face-saving way out of this, one that hopefully also won’t result in any more embarrassing Phil Robertson quotes popping up in the press. So what’s most likely to happen is that A&E negotiates a return to normalcy after the holiday with the Robertsons agreeing to some kind of public concession. Maybe Phil remains on the show, but in a reduced role. Something. One thing you can bet on: A&E won’t send its Duck Dynasty cast into any magazine interviews anytime soon.
What do you think will happen?