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A&E on Wednesday suspended the Duck Commander, Phil Robertson, from one of the most popular "unscripted" series on TV, "Duck Dynasty" -- which you already knew -- but here's something no one does know about: How exactly will this work?
How does one "suspend" a character from a putative "unscripted" series where everything is putatively "unscripted" -- this is "reality" TV. One doesn't suspend "real" people, does one? Can "reality" be changed by a simple suspension? Does "reality" work that way?
(And how confused will people be when "Duck Dynasty" returns next January, with Phil still very much a part of the series because it was pretaped long before his comments to GQ, or the subsequent suspension?)
Needless to say, all of this sounds like a problem without a solution, and in fact, I suspect it's a problem within a problem. One problem that will beget another problem because none of this is what A&E signed up for, or thought it was signing up for: That a core character on one of the most popular series in its history -- make that the most popular -- uses words, terms and ideas that are anathema to discourse or the perception of what a TV network is supposed to be, which is all-inclusive, and not anti-gay.
Fact is, this is just one problem facing A&E, which I am convinced had hoped this would all go away, and which now hopes people will forget about this entirely in a few weeks, when he probably will be "reinstated."
That's right: Don't expect this suspension to last long, which is a reason A&E called it indefinite. "Indefinite" could mean anything -- a day from now, a century from now. The word is utterly meaninglessly, and as such offers A&E an escape hatch.
"Oh he was suspended for months ...," the network might say upon reinstatement. Of course, the show hadn't taped over those months.
But let's say this is no hollow suspension, one of those slaps on the wrist. What then? Well ... you have a show that features a family of Robertsons, with one of them -- one of the most important of them, the Commander for crying out lout -- somewhere offstage.
"Where did the Commander go?," Si might muse.
Don't bet on it: Si will say something, but it won't be "happy, happy, happy!"
The idea of "Duck Dynasty" absent Phil is ludicrous: It's like "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" without Kim ... "The Bachelor" without the bachelor.
The other problems seem obvious to me, but are not so immediately apparent. Since fame and fortune have descended on the Robertsons, people want to know what they have to say, and Phil has had plenty to say, about Jesus, the Lord, salvation. (Willie's been out there, too.) He has strong beliefs and has made no effort to hide or disguise them, which is something A&E doesn't really want people or viewers to know about either. See the clip below, with Phil in a candid moment, about how some of these beliefs have been edited out of the show. His comments here seem to me to indicate that the Robertsons have had plenty of other comments that never made the air, and it seems impossible to believe that he first expressed his repugnant thoughts about gays to GQ for the first time either.
(Phil, by the way, does point out here one of the great paradoxes of reality TV -- the cast of "Jersey Shore," for example, can talk about having sex in ways that beggar the meanng of the term "having sex" -- but if Jesus or religion is mentioned, the comment hits the editing floor faster 'n a duck hits the water.)
Robertson's absence on the show -- and as mentioned, I very much doubt there will be much of an absence at all -- could hurt "Duck" and A&E in another fundamental way: That he has been excised because of his beliefs.
I have long suspected that "Duck" has been such a huge hit -- besides the fact that it can be amusing -- because this show is about people who live in The Rest of America: Those who believe in absolutely everything Phil Robertson believes in, up to and including how the perfect duck whistle should be made, and who believe that sin and evil have consumed popular culture ... with this one exception.
So yes, A&E has a big problem, and is hoping -- praying, yes praying -- that all of you forget about it as soon as possible.
Newsday app readers please head on over to newsday.com/tvzone to watch the clip.