After 11 seasons, filled with beards, camo and controversy, the cast of A&E’s popular reality television show “Duck Dynasty” announced Wednesday night during its season premiere that this one would be their last.
“We’ve got an unbelievable announcement for y’all,” Uncle Si Robertson says enthusiastically to the camera.
“After five years, we’ve decided as a family for this to be the final chapter of the ‘Duck Dynasty’ series,” one of the Robertson brothers, Jase, continues.
“May God bless each and every one of you,” Si Robertson says in closing.
The family, all 21 of them, let out a resounding “Yay!”
The show chronicles the lives of Willie Robertson and his brothers, Jase, Jep and Alan; their wives; their parents, Phil and Miss Kay; and Uncle Si as they run their highly successful Duck Commander duck-call business in rural Louisiana.
Although it debuted as a reality television hit, raking in record numbers in its infancy, “Duck Dynasty” has suffered in recent years from a decline in viewership, probably brought on, in part, from a widely reported controversy that forced A&E to briefly suspend Phil.
In an interview with GQ magazine in 2013, the year after the show debuted, the Robertson family patriarch made unsavory comments about homosexuality, women and race relations.
As Washington Post reporter Emily Yahr wrote at the time:
“It all started when Robertson – a 67-year-old self-proclaimed ‘Bible thumper’ – was asked by the magazine what he considered sinful. He responded, ‘Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.’
“There were some other crude remarks about why he prefers women and on race relations in the Jim Crow South. Reaction was swift and loud. The NAACP expressed outrage. Gay rights groups called for A&E to condemn their star for his ‘vile’ comments. The network went one step further: Executives announced late Wednesday that Robertson would be suspended from filming ‘indefinitely.'”
Fans defended Robertson in the name of free speech, among them Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who said, “It is a messed-up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”
But the suspension did not last long.
After the Robertson family said that Phil’s remarks were expressions of his faith and that they could not “imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm,” A&E reversed course a week after the announced suspension.
“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,” the network said in a statement.
After the controversy, ratings fell steadily, but the show remained popular among die-hard fans.
The Robertson family managed build an entire empire out of the show’s success – clothes, hunting gear, a holiday CD, books and even a spot on America’s political stage.
This year, at the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump, also a reality-show star, invited Willie Robertson to lead off the opening night. He wore his signature beard and an American flag bandanna and took on one of the businessman’s favorite targets, one the now-president-elect has continued to attack on Twitter: the media.
“It’s been a rough year for the media experts,” Robertson said at the convention. “It must be humbling to be so wrong about so much for so long. But I have a theory about why they missed the Trump train. They don’t hang out with regular folks like us, who like to hunt and fish and pray and actually work for a living. Heck, I don’t even know that they know how to talk to people from middle America. I mean, when I tell ’em I’m from Louisiana, they really start talking real slow and real loud.”
And the embattled patriarch, Phil Robertson, got political himself, endorsing presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in an official campaign video nearly a year ago.
“My qualifications for president of the United States are rather narrow. Is he or she godly, does he or she love us, can he or she do the job, and finally, would they kill a duck and put him in a pot and make him a good duck gumbo?” Robertson asks in the ad video.
“I’ve looked at the candidates. Ted Cruz is my man. He fits the bill. He’s godly, he loves us, he’s the man for the job, and he will go duck hunting because today we’re going,” Robertson said.
The ad then cuts to a frame of the two men shooting.
In their announcement Wednesday night, the Robertson family said that fans can expect to see them in some holiday specials. A spinoff series, “Going Si-Ral,” launched Wednesday and features uncle Si and Willie Robertson analyzing viral videos and online trends, Us Weekly reported.
Season 11 of “Duck Dynasty” runs through Jan. 18, and the show will return in March for seven final episodes.