The first six episodes of Duck Dynasty’s fifth season are progressing as audiences might have expected, with unintentional humor arising from scenarios such as the hiring of an inept cousin and elderly Uncle Si’s attempt at embracing new technology, but far fewer people are tuning in to see it. The reality television show centered around the personal and professional lives of the Robertson family was the focus of pointed controversy this past offseason when family patriarch Phil Robertson compared homosexuality to beastiality and suggested black men were happiest working in the fields during an interview with GQ. Civil rights groups immediately targeted Duck Dynasty and its advertisers for boycott, causing christian conservative groups to counter with support for the show en masse. Once Phil was suspended and then quickly re-hired by A&E, the question seemed to be just how much of a controversy-fueled ratings boost the show would receive when season five debuted last month.
As it turned out, the ratings for January’s season premiere episode “Boomerang Becca” were down four percent from last year’s finale. Any new viewers attracted to the show by the controversy appeared to have been more than canceled out by viewers who decided to tune out. But despite reclaiming a one percent ratings gain for its second episode, ratings for the next four episodes have plummeted. Ratings for this past Wednesday’s episode “G.I. Si” clocked in at a thirty-six percent drop from the season premiere.
That’s still more than five million viewers (source: TV By The Numbers), meaning that Duck Dynasty remains one of the more popular shows on cable television. But it’s a loss of more than half of the eleven million-plus viewers which it notched for its season four premiere last August. That suggests that by the time season five wraps late next month, the ratings may have plummeted even further. That calls into question whether A&E will want a season six.
The show was clearly losing popularity as season four progressed, long before Phil Robertson gave his controversial interview, so it’s possible that the ratings would have dropped to this level by now even if he had kept quiet. But if the oddly timed interview was indeed an attempt at stirring the pot in the name of reviving ratings, it hasn’t worked.
Even if Duck Dynasty is dropped by A&E, the Robertsons appear to have plenty of other opportunities lined up. They’ve recently rolled out freeze dried foods as part of their ongoing strategy of using their likenesses on various products sold in retail stores. And Phil’s son Willie Robertson was invited to the most recent State of the Union by the republican party in a seeming tacit endorsement of Phil’s beliefs. But will the secondary opportunities continue to pour in if ratings drop to the point that the show is no longer on the air? That particular controversy will have to wait until at least the next offseason.