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The Real Reason Duck Dynasty Ended

Duck Dynasty may have been among the most popular reality TV shows in its day, but it was not without controversy throughout its 11 season run. The series followed the lives of the entrepreneurs behind the hugely successful company Duck Commander, which manufactured ducks calls and other products for duck hunters. It featured patriarch Phil Robertson, his wife Miss Kay, and their children and extended family members as they ran the outfit; it was so popular that during its heyday, the family was raking in the moolah not just in sales, but also in merchandise from clothing to video games.

The series aired on A&E, and the family's relationship with the network wasn't always smooth. Phil, in particular, regularly butted heads with network brass, and was even banned from the show indefinitely in 2013 after an infamous interview with GQ, during which he compared homosexuality to bestiality and suggested that black people were exaggerating what their ancestors suffered during the Jim Crow era.

The network issued a statement following Phil's interview, and it wasn't exactly one that expressed support for the duck hunting patriarch. "We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty," the statement read. 

Make no mistake, the controversy damaged the clan's relationship not just with A&E, but with their viewers, as well. Phil was even briefly suspended from his own show — and while the brouhaha wasn't entirely to blame for the show's cancellation, there can be no doubt that it certainly contributed to the network eventually opting to pull the duck hunters from the air.

Duck Dynasty's cancellation was a "mutual decision"

At the time of the cancellation announcement, issued shortly after the season 11 premiere, the network and family issued a joint statement to say that it had been a mutual decision. 

"After five years, 130 episodes and one of the biggest hits in the history of cable, the Robertson family and A&E jointly decided that Duck Dynasty, the series, will come to an end after this season," the network's statement said; accompanying it was a video of the Robertson family making the announcement.

There is one thing, however that cannot be ignored: the fact that the show's ratings dropped drastically in 2014, after Phil publicly aired his views on homosexuality and his perception of the pre-Civil Rights era. The numbers don't lie, and viewers were simply tuning out following the controversy. The GQ piece ran between seasons 4 and 5; by the end of that fifth season, viewership had dropped by 2.4 million from the previous season's record breaking numbers. With their beliefs taking on a whole new light in the eyes of the public, the duck hunting family from Louisiana simply weren't the benign presence that they had once been in the homes of their audience.

Duck Dynasty never recovered from the controversy

Unfortunately, Phil appears to have not learned much from the situation; he continued to make controversial comments in the media, even while Duck Dynasty was still airing. In 2015 and 2016 alone, he stated that STDs are punishment for premarital sex, offered a rather horrendous hypothetical for what he figured atheists should suffer through, and aligned himself with Citizens United to block the transgender bathroom law in North Carolina — all while Duck Dynasty's viewership continued to dwindle. 

The New York Times suggested another potential reason for the show's decline: over-exposure, and the revelation that much of the show was staged. Most popular television shows produce one season per year, while Duck Dynasty was airing two, giving viewers an inordinate amount of the homespun humor offered up by the Robertsons. There's also the fact that despite the "reality" part of reality TV often being a bit of a misnomer, viewers generally prefer to believe that what they're seeing is, you know, real — and the Robertsons seemed happy to admit that their series fell more into the dubious category of "guided reality."

Perhaps because they foresaw the end of the show, many of the Robertson clan also had other commitments by the time Duck Dynasty was canceled. Sadie joined the cast of Dancing With The Stars, Willie went on the campaign trail for Donald Trump, Uncle Si got cast in a spin-off series, and a number of family members decided to capitalize on Duck Dynasty's success by writing books.

While there's no single reason that the show was canceled, it's fair to say that the 2013 controversy caused a kind of snowball effect which eventually led to A&E's decision to pull the plug. Don't feel too bad for the Robertsons, though; Duck Commander has remained an incredibly successful business for the family, and it'll likely continue to be for as long as there are ducks to hunt.