Los Angeles (AFP) – The star of America’s most popular cable TV reality show will be allowed to return to the program, a statement said, after his suspension for inflammatory remarks about homosexuality and blacks triggered a national furor.
The A&E Network confirmed its popular “Duck Dynasty” show would resume filming next year with star performer Phil Robertson back on board following the storm over his anti-gay comments in a recent interview.
Robertson, 67, the patriarch of the extended family of Louisiana hunters whose lives are chronicled in “Duck Dynasty” was suspended by A&E after suggesting homosexuality is sinful and could lead to bestiality.
In the same interview with GQ magazine, Robertson also minimized the era of racist segregation of blacks in America’s southern states.
Robertson’s comments appalled gay rights activists who demanded A&E consider take action and urged sponsors to cut ties to the program, which is the most-watched nonfiction cable show in U.S. television history.
However the outcry after Robertson’s suspension was matched by an equally vigorous response from fans and socially conservative Republicans, with many claiming Robertson’s rights to free speech were being violated.
After a week-long war of words A&E confirmed that Robertson would return to the show after the star said he “regretted” the way his remarks had been portrayed.
“While Phil’s comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the ‘coarse language’ he used and the misinterpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article,” A&E said in a statement. “He also made it clear he would ‘never incite or encourage hate.’ We at A&E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article and reiterate that they are not views we hold.”
The statement from the broadcaster said “Duck Dynasty” was “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,” he said. “So 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.”
A&E said it was planning to launch a national campaign of advertisements preaching unity, tolerance and acceptance.
A&E’s climbdown over Robertson received a chilly response from gay rights activists, however.
“Phil Robertson should look African American and gay people in the eyes and hear about the hurtful impact of praising Jim Crow laws and comparing gay people to terrorists,” a spokesman for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said in a statement.
“If dialogue with Phil is not part of next steps then A&E has chosen profits over African American and gay people — especially its employees and viewers.”
First broadcast in 2012, “Duck Dynasty” centers on Robertson and a family who struck it rich making and selling a cedar wood duck call for hunters called the Duck Commander, yet never abandoned their raw bayou ways.
Many fans say they love the weekly show for its downhome family values: no matter how dysfunctional the Robertsons are, they always come together in the end with love and affection.
Season four premiered in August with 11.8 million viewers, making it the most-watched nonfiction cable show in U.S. television history.
Season five is scheduled to begin on January 15 and the show is also seen on cable and satellite in Europe and Asia.
Besides “Duck Dynasty,” which GQ said earns the Robertson clan a reported $200,000 an episode, the family has published four non-fiction best-sellers this year.
Lucrative merchandising also includes smartphone apps, greeting cards, bobblehead dolls, camouflage outfits and car fresheners.