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A&E Reverses Decision on ‘Duck Dynasty' Patriarch

LOS ANGELES - The U.S. television channel A&E landed in the middle of the nation's culture wars when "Duck Dynasty" patriarch Phil Robertson sounded off on gays and the Bible. A&E quickly found there was no safe ground.

It was pilloried for allowing a man who equated gays with hell-bound sinners like adulterers to have a national TV stage. Then it was excoriated for giving him the hook.

With A&E's decision Friday to bring Robertson back to its most-watched show, it remains to be seen if it can mend fences with both sides.

The channel's interest is in ratings and revenue, not refereeing social discord.

Will those who called for an A&E boycott unless Robertson returned be satisfied? Will "Duck Dynasty" fans who enjoy the Louisiana duck call-making family but were offended by Robertson's comments watch again?

The gay rights group GLAAD, which had slammed Robertson's comments to GQ magazine, issued a critical statement despite A&E's vague allusion to the support of "numerous advocacy groups" for its reversal.

"If dialogue with Phil is not part of (the) next steps, then A&E has chosen profits over African-American and gay people - especially its employees and viewers," GLAAD said, referring to Robertson's remark to GQ that he didn't know any unhappy blacks in the pre-Civil Rights era South.

A&E said it intended to air a national public service campaign "promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people."

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council in Washington, wasn't among those calling for a boycott but said A&E could have suffered without changing its mind.

"We're seeing play out in front of us this great clash of cultures. Those in Hollywood don't quite understand the values that for many of these people - and I put myself in that category - our values and faith are non-negotiable," Perkins said.

Within a day of Robertson's removal, more than a half-million people "liked" an impromptu Facebook page backing a boycott of A&E until he returned. A petition calling for A&E to bring him back reached 250,000 signatures and counting in about a week.

The controversy similarly ensnared the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain, which removed "Duck Dynasty"-related merchandise from its shelves and then apologized after being hit with complaints.

While TV ratings tend to fluctuate, particularly during the holidays when viewing drops, the overall A&E audience was smaller after the "Duck" brouhaha than before. For the week of Dec. 16-22, the channel averaged 1.5 million viewers, compared to 2 million for the week before, according to Nielsen figures.

"Duck Dynasty" is the channel's highest-rated program and set a reality show record for cable with nearly 12 million viewers for its fourth-season debut this past summer.

Last week, the family said in a statement on its Duck Commander website that although some of Phil Robertson's comments were coarse, "his beliefs are grounded" in the Bible and he "is a Godly man." They also said that "as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm."

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AP Writers John Rogers and Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles and Chris Talbott in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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