A&E has ducked away from a controversy surrounding the stars of its hugely popular reality series Duck Dynasty.
The network issued a statement late Friday backing off from its previously announced suspension of Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the clan behind the successful Louisiana-based Duck Commanderduck-calling business. The suspension was triggered by Robertson's interview with GQ, published last week, in which he made anti-gay statements, which he said reflected his religious beliefs.
The interview sparked protests from human-rights groups, and led to A&E's quick decision to suspend Robertson from future episodes. But that action also triggered a backlash from some Dynasty fans, who tried to organize a boycott of the network, collecting 250,000 petitions -- and Robertson's own family, which suggested it would not be willing to keep filming the series without him.
In a statement, the network cited its "core values" of "inclusion and mutual respect" to explain why "we reacted so quickly and strongly." "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. He also made it clear he would 'never incite or encourage hate.' We at A+E Networksexpressed our disappointment with his statements in the article, and reiterate that they are not views we hold."
The statement then offered some wiggle room: "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," the statement said. "After discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filmingDuck Dynasty later this spring with the entire Robertson family."
A mostly completed 10-episode season will begin airing Jan. 15, with all of the Robertsons featured. The new episodes, scheduled to be shot this spring, will air later next year.
Duck is the No. 2 series on cable TV, behind The Walking Dead, and ranks among the top 30 of all TV shows with an average of 13.4 million viewers. It's a also a merchandising phenomenon, as a top seller at Wal Mart. And a holiday album, Duck the Halls: Christmas with the Robertsons, has sold 700,000 copies since its release in late October, says Nielsen SoundScan.