Robertson, 67, head of a Louisiana family that makes duck-hunting gear, was suspended indefinitely last week by A&E Television Networks after telling GQ magazine that homosexuals were akin to adulterers, the greedy, drunkards and swindlers and would not "inherit the kingdom of God." A&E is co-owned by Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp.
His comments and suspension put at risk a show that has exploded in popularity since it began airing in March 2012. "Duck Dynasty" has generated $400 million in merchandise sales, according to Forbes magazine. The show has produced almost $80 million in advertising sales for A&E this year through September, according to Kantar Media, a more than fourfold increase from a year earlier.
"'Duck Dynasty' is A&E's biggest revenue generator and major viewer franchise," said Porter Bibb, managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, a New York-based merchant bank. "America believes in second acts," he added, predicting Robertson "will be given another chance."
The audience for the program, a reality series following the antics of Robertson, his family and their Duck Commander business in West Monroe, La., has soared since the show's debut. "Duck Dynasty" is averaging 14.6 million viewers an episode this season, according to Nielsen data. That puts the program among the most-watched regularly scheduled cable shows. Episodes end with the family saying a prayer.
Robertson joins a growing list of celebrities who got into trouble with their producers this year after making insensitive remarks. Celebrity chef Paula Deen was let go by the Food Network in June after saying in court documents that she had used racial slurs. Alec Baldwin and Martin Bashir left Comcast Corp.'s MSNBC after making controversial remarks.
"This is not different from Paula Deen," said Michael Stone, who runs Beanstalk, a New York-based brand-licensing agency that's part of Omnicon Group Inc. "I'm surprised that A&E has not pulled the entire show. The Food Network did the right thing. A&E is protecting their flank."
The parties have time to work out a solution. A&E has recorded enough shows for the season that is scheduled to begin next month, the New York Times reported on Dec. 20. Shooting for episodes after that wouldn't normally begin until spring.
Stores continue to sell the merchandise, in part because of support from the religious community.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the Lebanon, Tenn.-based operator of 625 restaurants, pulled its "Duck Dynasty" merchandise on Dec. 21, then backtracked the next day after customers protested.
"Today, we are putting all our 'Duck Dynasty' products back in our stores, and, we apologize for offending you," the retailer said on its website. "We respect all individuals' right to express their beliefs. We certainly did not mean to have anyone think different."
The merchandise is widely available. Walgreen Co. sells an Uncle Si Chia planter for $20. The closely held teen retailer Hot Topic Inc. offers 3 3/4-inch vinyl figures of cast members.
A search at Walmart.com produced 305 results, including a battery-powered children's all-terrain vehicle for $149 and a $15 wood-finish cross pendant. The collection at Target includes bedding and coolers.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. continues to carry "Duck Dynasty" merchandise, according to Sarah McKinney, a spokeswoman. She declined to comment on whether any merchandise had sold out. Target didn't respond to a message left on its media hotline.