'Duck Dynasty' Attracts Christian Conservatives

'Duck Dynasty' Attracts Christian Conservatives

11:13am Dec 20, 2013

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Fans of "Duck Dynasty" know this. It is a popular reality TV show about a family that found success selling products to hunters. Well, now the patriarch of the family has been suspended indefinitely from the show; this is after he made remarks about homosexuality to GQ magazine. The show is a huge hit for the A&E cable channel, spawning a multimillion-dollar industry of related products and books. NPR's Lynn Neary has this look at the family and where they might be headed.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: You know how sometimes you hear a word for the first time or learn about a new trend and then suddenly it seems to be everywhere? Well, "Duck Dynasty" is like that, and now in the natural progression that seems to come with fame these days, they are surrounded by controversy as reported here on CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Phil Robertson was asked by GQ magazine about what was wrong with the country and blamed it, in part, on homosexual behavior, saying gays are sinners who won't get into heaven and equating it with bestiality and prostitution.

NEARY: But maybe we should back up a bit to the beginning, to where it all started.


NEARY: Before it was "Duck Dynasty," it was Duck Commander, a family-owned business that sells handmade duck calls for hunters. Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family, his four sons and their uncle, all work for the company. Along with their wives and children, they are the stars of the cable reality show. It is one part family story and one part pure redneck goofiness.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right. Well, look, the truck's gonna be here at 9 o'clock. Make sure you have the order. I get it. I get the goat.

NEARY: In addition to being a hit on A&E, "Duck Dynasty" is also a publishing phenomenon. The family has five books, three of them bestsellers, with five and half million copies in print.

JONATHAN MERKH: It's nothing short of amazing.

NEARY: Jonathan Merkh of Howard Books is the publisher for the Robertson family. Howard Books is the Christian publishing division of Simon & Schuster. That's because the Robertsons are also conservative Christians and Merkh says that's a big part of their fan base.

MERKH: A lot of people in the faith community have rallied around this family and there's been an appetite, you know, they're the anti-Kardashians, some have said. And at the end of the day they may have disagreements, but they all rally around together at the table and they are a family and they stay as a family regardless of the conflicts.

NEARY: And that, says Time TV critic James Poniewozak, poses a considerable dilemma for A&E, which responded to the current controversy by taking Phil Robertson off the show indefinitely.

JAMES PONIEWOZAK: A&E has got the star of their show on the one hand saying some things that might really offend some of their secular audience, you know, maybe even their gay audience, and on the other hand saying something that, you know, at least a portion of their audience says, well, wait a minute, these are essentially our beliefs. You're punishing this guy for being me.

NEARY: But the divide is not only religious. "Duck Dynasty" products have been a huge success for Wal-Mart, but company spokeswoman Sarah McKinney says they're not popular in every store. Take Texas, for instance.

SARAH MCKINNEY: The Houston metro market, we have sold a very limited amount, but if you go 30 minutes outside of Houston into Beaumont, Texas, we can't give the customers enough of the product.

NEARY: TV critic Poniewozak says some kind of a backlash against A&E's decision is almost inevitable from one side or the other, though it's not clear how it will affect the show's future ratings.

AL ROBERTSON: I think we'll continue to make a fun show that everybody in the family can watch, and our faith will be a part of it, but it won't be, you know, out front.

NEARY: Al Robertson is the oldest son and the only one who does not sport a massive beard. He joined the show this season after working 20 years as a pastor. He says he understands as people learn more about the family and their beliefs, some viewers may be turned off. But he thinks the show's humor will keep a lot of people watching. As for his father's remarks...

A. ROBERTSON: Dad is always a little more flamboyant in the way he puts things. You know, in terms of where we are biblically, we're always gonna, you know, take a stand for what we believe is right. But we never want to demean people and, you know, hopefully nobody will take it that way. But dad is dad.

NEARY: But it could be hard for a show built around family to survive without a dad at the head of the table.


PHIL ROBERTSON: Father, we are thankful that you've blessed us with these good feasts. Whether there's a little friction among us down here on Earth, we love each other no matter what happens. Amen.


NEARY: Stay tuned. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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