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Phil Robertson suspension from 'Duck Dynasty' ends after A&E caves

Phil Robertson, the Duck Commander, holding the 1

Phil Robertson, the Duck Commander, holding the 1 millionth duck call assembled for 2013 at the company's warehouse in West Monroe, La. (Nov. 7, 2013) Credit: AP

Phil Robertson -- patriarch of the "Duck Dynasty" clan suspended Dec. 18 by A&E for comments made to a national men's magazine -- is suspended no more. The network reversed itself a short while ago, saying filming would resume in the "spring," while adding in a lengthy statement: "We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company, and the values found in Duck Dynasty. These PSAs will air across our entire portfolio."

Robertson never apologized for the comments nor did he do so Friday; in addition, a nationwide campaign to get him back on the show had collected 250,000 signatures as of today; A&E made no mention of this in its statement. (See below.)

Needless to say ... oh, never mind, I'll go ahead and say it: This represents a complete capitulation by A&E -- the apogee, or nadir (your choice) of an episode that caused a national outcry and became a huge embarrassment for a network (and suite of networks, as A&E is the umbrella for many leading TV destinations) that is simply unaccustomed to them. A&E's leader, Nancy DuBuc, has been one of the most celebrated TV executives in the industry of the last decade, but the Robertson debacle has been both a setback and misstep for her. 

What happened? How to count the ways? Foremost, while Robertson's comments about homosexuality -- which he linked with "bestiality" in the interview -- may have been repugnant to many millions of A&E viewers, his views, which he says are Scripture-based, are also shared by many millions of its viewers as well, particularly fans of "Duck Dynasty," which has fashioned itself as a conservative bastion of family values and especially Christian values. By suspending Robertson, A&E appeared to be affronting a broad array of those values as well, and the outcry was extraordinary: Besides campaigns to reinstate the "Duck Commander," and a vocal outcry across the Internet, A&E even had to reinforce security at its New York headquarters .

Clearly, the network was caught off-guard -- badly. 

But as I argued in this space as well, the "suspension" was absurd -- an unworkable idea that was made in haste, which in the real world of reality TV could not possibly have been enforced. Had A&E actually tried, it would have devalued its franchise, or ultimately forced "Dynasty" -- the most successful unscripted non-music show on TV -- off to another network. 

Simply put, A&E had made one of the worst corporate blunders in  memory -- and which was finally rectified a few hours ago, in the middle of a holiday week -- or in the dead of night, so to speak. 

In point of fact, there never really was a suspension: A&E had already wrapped production for the year, and never really said when taping would resume. Robertson will appear in episodes that begin airing Jan. 15, so to an average viewer, it would appear as if nothing has ever been amiss at all. 

The statement certainly tries to lay out the difficult position that it had been put in -- namely, that this is a global media company with thousands of employees, and can't certainly appear to espouse the positions that Robertson spoke of in the interview by doing nothing (although as I have also argued that a simple, "we do not agree with what he said ... but we have no control over his comments,etc. etc.." would have been the easiest, smartest way to handle this).

As a global media content company, A+E Networks’ core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect. We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people’s home and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principals. That is why we reacted so quickly and strongly to a recent interview with Phil Robertson. 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 mis-interpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. 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. But Duck Dynasty is 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. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about. 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. We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company, and the values found in Duck Dynasty. These PSAs will air across our entire portfolio.

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