The quack is back on A&E with the return for the fourth season of “Duck Dynasty,” one of television’s biggest hit shows and best family shows on the network as it chronicles some of the life and spoofs of the Robertson family in Louisiana.
The show returns tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern and 9 p.m. Central on A&E.
By Alan Clemons, Southern Managing Editor
Phil Robertson and his wife, Kay, founded the Duck Commander line of duck calls several decades ago. They got their sons involved and, with a family ethic grounded in Christian faith, hard work and the outdoors, turned Duck Commander into one of the most popular and successful waterfowl call manufacturers in the country.
Along the way, the bearded and face-painted hunters gained a following among waterfowl hunters for their no-holds barred methods. Simple, but effective. They hunted deer, small game, frogs, fished and trapped, and did what they needed to do to put food on the table. A few years ago after Willie Robertson took over as CEO of Duck Commander, he saw the growth of deer hunting and created Buck Commander.
“Duck Dynasty” has been wildly successful for the family and A&E. The Robertsons negotiated for a per-show salary increase and finally agreed to it just recently. The final episode of Season 3 was the most-watched series show in A&E’s history, with 9.6 million viewers and 5.5 million of those in the critical 18-49 age demographic. Strong numbers, no doubt.
Check out this “I’m A Deer Hunter” interview with Willie Robertson from earlier this year:
It’s been a whirlwind for the Louisiana family well-known among waterfowl hunters. Phil Robertson founded the Duck Commander line of calls. Hand-made by the family, the calls have been mainstays in duck blinds for decades. Videos and DVDs grew in popularity, too, and today with the success of Duck Dynasty the business has exploded into other avenues.
A few years ago, Willie Robertson — he’s the one who runs the company and wears the headband — decided their duck business needed a little sideline. Deer hunting had been something the Robertsons did on occasion for food, but it wasn’t a high priority. Nor was it anything they had thought about as a business venture.
That spawned Buck Commander, which today is thriving. When autumn rolls around, the Buck Commander crew is busy filming hunts and making expo show appearances. When duck season arrives, mallards command their attention. They’re busy!
The success of Duck Dynasty has been pretty amazing, hasn’t it?
“It’s been crazy. We were in People, Rolling Stone, on billboards. The A&E network’s marketing campaigns have been huge. People in New York City are sending us duck calls and asking for autographs. It’s been amazing. Who would have thought?
“I’ve just about gotten all the busy I can stand. It’s all the time. That kind of started even when had our show on the Outdoor Channel, being a year-round thing with advertising and all. We couldn’t change our look (with the beards) due to photos and the marketing stuff. Buck Commander still is on Outdoor Channel and is the same way: hunting hard, filming hard, editing and then a little off-season of sorts to get ready to do it again.
“Duck Commander has grown to a new level of getting stuff done. I found it was six days a week and we had to bring in some people to get the calls made and other things done. Sales went crazy after Duck Dynasty aired. We had no idea it would do that. I knew it might be big, but we really didn’t know. It’s hard to plan for anything like that, too. The thing that’s surprised me the most is selling duck calls to people in bigger cities. I didn’t think they would buy them because a duck call is a tool, but I was wrong. It’s something they know we made with our hands and is affordable.
“If you’re a fan of American Chopper you probably can’t afford a bike, but our calls are $40 to $100. So you could buy one of those. We’re still in the dark about how things might do at the (retail) store level. If it’s like what we’ve been doing then it’ll be crazy.”
How’s it been with everything involved making Duck Dynasty?
“Making the show isn’t hard. It’s time-consuming, of course, but if a show is a hit then maintaining your business while trying to maintain that level of the show can be tough. People say ‘hire more’ for your business, but then you run the risk of going backwards. It’s been a challenge. It’s hopping. We’ve doubled our workforce in three months. I hired more family … my wife’s cousins, my other little-known brother. He was a minister. I hired his wife and son-in-law.”
What’s up with Buck Commander and the deer hunting? Was that just a natural spinoff? It makes sense with the name and seeing as how deer hunting is so popular.
“I was doing the deer side, which no one else (in the family) really does. They hunt the first few weeks until duck season opens and then quit, so I kept it (deer) going.
“Look at the timing of everything. I was talking with (Realtree founder) Bill Jordan about timing and love his stories about it. People ask how I got here, how I got on a TV show … when I took over our duck (call) business it was when Walmart was just about set to get out of selling hunting stuff. They were scaling back, there was a pretty good ripple in the outdoors industry about it and I knew we had to do something or make some plans.”
Duck Dynasty really seemed to hit it big with not just hunters or men, but also with women and kids. A&E isn’t a hunting network, so I guess that was planned?
“I wanted the youngsters to watch this and say “Man, that looks like fun” and get into deer camp. If you see Jason Aldean or one of us, I think it just looks like fun. I never wanted the show to be boring or something where kids don’t enjoy it. I told my editors to edit it for women and kids. A dude can watch a deer in a field for two hours and be totally entertained. But a show should be something where a wife or girlfriend or mom or kid can watch and enjoy it.
“That’s what happened with Duck Dynasty. We all sit and watch it and have a good time. I’ve heard (complaints) from a few hardcore hunters, but a show like that is on A&E and not the hunting channels.”
How did Duck Dynasty come around? Did you think it would be as successful as it was for a first-year show?
“I never would have thought a duck show would have made it because I didn’t think duck hunting would go mainstream. But the big thing was “Swamp People.” They’ve been doing that show for years but I wasn’t sure if they’d show shooting a hole in a gator’s head. Then it became a juggernaut hit, and the other shows like Deadliest Catch were big. Hollywood said if this is what you do and where you live, then let’s do it. Then it became all about finding the next show.
“A&E came in and had seen Swamp People, and they were on fire with Pawn Stars. They also have the History Channel. But A&E is about 50-50 men and women, and sometimes difficult to make programming that men and women will watch. So I was nervous about it when we started.
“But I think a key is the show is funny. Phil says if you can make ‘em smile you’re doing OK, if you make them say “Huh!” then you’re doing better and if you can make them laugh then you’re doing really well. I think with us coming out funny that it broke down every barrier. It doesn’t matter what color you are, if you’re male or female … it covers relationships. People say ‘That’s like my uncle’ or ‘My brother’s like that’ and they can relate to it.
“We had just enough experience in outdoor industry making videos, and we all went to seminary and have spoken to crowds, so those made it easier. Plus, being known in the outdoors industry helped with the (fan) interest. But it’s been even bigger than we thought. I can’t really put on a disguise because people know I’m one of the Robertson crew. But everything works out for a reason.”
Watch Duck Dynasty tonight at 9 p.m. Central on A&E, and be on the lookout later this summer for the full “I’m A Deer Hunter” interview.