A&E calls Phil Robertson back to 'Duck Dynasty' after anti-gay flap
By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Cable network A&E said on Friday it was bringing back family patriarch Phil Robertson to the hit reality show "Duck Dynasty" after fans protested his suspension over anti-gay remarks and big-name corporate sponsors stuck by the series.
Robertson's remarks to GQ magazine and his subsequent suspension by A&E sparked a nationwide debate over tolerance and religion, with conservative politicians and fans saying that Robertson's beliefs were consistent with the Bible.
"As a global media content company, A&E Networks' core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect," A&E said in a statement released late Friday in the midst of the holiday season.
"We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people's homes and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principles."
It was a quick reversal for the network that is jointly owned by Walt Disney Co. and privately held Hearst Corp, but the move was not entirely surprising, given the financial commitment at stake. The controversy was also seen as a test for the entertainment industry's appeal to audiences in the heartland of America.
"Duck Dynasty" ranks among the most-watched cable television programs and averages about 8 million viewers per episode. Its fifth season is slated to begin on January 15. The show's fourth season debuted in August to 11.8 million viewers, a record for a cable nonfiction series, according to the network.
"Duck Dynasty" sponsors and retailers selling branded merchandise, such as Target and Walmart, also stuck with the show, although they did not pick sides in the public debate.
Restaurant chain Cracker Barrel notably bowed to customer pressure last weekend and restocked its Phil Robertson-themed merchandise after initially pulling it from shelves. Continued...