Sometimes it is best to see if a fire will extinguish itself naturally rather than try to put it out.
That’s something A&E might have considered before rushing to pull Phil Robertson from filming of the network’s hit reality show “Duck Dynasty,” about the Robertson family’s duck hunting business.
To refresh: Phil Robertson gave his unfiltered views on gays (sinful) and blacks in the pre-civil rights era (seemed pretty happy to him) in an interview with GQ. First there was outrage from those offended by Robertson’s remarks and then there was outrage at those angry at A&E’s decision to put Phil Robertson “under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”
The Robertson family has indicated that it may not want to continue with the show if its patriarch isn’t involved. The Robertsons have a hugely successful business and have also been on TV before and will surely find a home somewhere else if need be.
In other words, A&E needs them more than they need A&E.
If A&E and its parent companies Hearst Corp. and Walt Disney Co. are really offended by what Robertson said, then cut ties to the family completely. Stop making the show and stop airing the reruns.
But if A&E is making moves out of fear of backlash and wants to protect its franchise, then it is doing neither the show nor itself any favors. It has only served to alienate “Duck Dynasty” fans and the family responsible for its biggest hit.
Indeed, the only winners are cable news channels, which are milking this for all its worth while waiting for the next car chase or snow storm to come along.
As media professor Jeffrey McCall of DePauw University told the Los Angeles Times, “If A&E wants the Robertsons to make money for the channel by being authentic, then at some point A&E has to accept that reality stars will be real human beings. If A&E didn’t like the Robertsons as they are, then why did they give them a weekly platform?”
“Duck Dynasty” is a slice-of-life show. No one has to watch it. Obviously something about it has struck a chord with viewers. Of course, “All in the Family” also struck a chord and probably as many people were agreeing with Archie Bunker as were laughing at him.
Odds are that if A&E had let this play out a little and given Robertson room to make some sort of mea culpa, this would have died down. A&E could also have made clear that Robertson’s remarks to GQ would be addressed on the show itself.
Now A&E has to decide who to bow to first -- pressure groups or the Robertsons. Either way it looks bad.
Once A&E figures out what to do, the next move will be to find out who gave the green light to GQ to have unfettered access to Phil Robertson.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.