AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
A controversy has plagued a powerful and lucrative multimedia empire: "Duck Dynasty."
(SOUNDBITE FROM TV SERIES "DUCK DYNASTY")
JASE ROBERTSON: Willie, do you even know how to fish?
WILLIE ROBERTSON: Son, I can catch any fish in that water.
ROBERTSON: Let's have a competition.
SI ROBERTSON: They compete in everything, whether it be horseback riding, throwing horseshoes, playing baseball, all that.
CORNISH: Millions and millions of people watch "Duck Dynasty" on TV, buy books by its stars and shell out money for "Duck Dynasty" T-shirts, chia pets, seasoning mixes and apps for the iPhone. But now the patriarch of this reality TV show family has been suspended by the network A&E. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans is here to explain. And Eric, first tell us what happened, how did Phil Robertson get into trouble?
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Well, basically a writer for GQ magazine spent some time with the family to do a profile and hung out with Phil Robertson and got him talking about his faith and also he talked a little bit about how he felt about gay people. And at that point, he compared homosexual behavior to adultery, to slanders, to bestiality and A&E drew a line and said that they would not tolerate him speaking that way about gay people and so they suspended him.
CORNISH: Now, how much of a surprise was this really? I assume that A&E had to have known his views. How much of a surprise is this to the viewers?
DEGGANS: "Duck Dynasty" is a show - it's called reality, but it's very sort of manipulated where we're led into the life of this family that owns a duck calling business. They're also very religious. They're very wealthy and it's sort of - you see them being fun and sort of indulging in red neck culture and all these things. They talk about their faith a lot, but I think this is the first time we've seen one of them come forth and say something sort of hurtful about another group of people.
So they may have known that these guys were very religious, but they didn't necessarily know that they had these sort of views about gay people and that they were going to say them publically and cause this sort of problem for A&E.
CORNISH: Is A&E really sending a message to fans with this suspension?
DEGGANS: Well, one of the things I think we're seeing is that anti-gay thoughts and statements are moving from an area where they're sort of a matter of opinion to a place where we see them as bigotry in the mainstream culture. And there was a sense that A&E felt compelled to act because enough people in the mainstream were upset about it that they had to take action and this is new.
We're seeing this idea move from a matter of opinion to a matter of bigotry and it forces a company like A&E to take action.
CORNISH: But is this the kind of thing that's going to destabilize the "Duck Dynasty" empire or really have much effect on the show itself?
DEGGANS: I think it could cause some problems because they're constantly leveraging as we noticed the "Duck Dynasty" brand across all of these showbiz platforms. And those showbiz platforms are very concerned about how they're perceived in terms of equality and in terms of being fair to gay people and all people. And so if they want to publish a book, if they want to do a movie, if they want to do a speaking tour, if they want to create a Web series, how are they going to be regarded if they refuse to apologize for the way that Phil has talked about gay people. That may be a problem for them in the future.
CORNISH: That's NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thanks so much.
DEGGANS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.