The Robertson family in "Duck Dynasty"
Fact is stranger than fiction, as the old saying goes. Or, at least, more interesting. There's a reason reality TV has taken off the way it has -- it appeals to the voyeur in all of us who want a peek into the quirky lives of others, wondering how they compare to our own.
The latest series to expose an eccentric American family is A&E's "Duck Dynasty," premiering Wednesday, March 21. Cameras trail the fascinating Robertsons as they run a successful duck calls and decoys business in Louisiana.
Willie Robertson leads the "Duck Dynasty" charge as CEO of Duck Commander, a booming outdoors sporting-goods business. The resident prankster, Willie holds a business degree and is credited with transforming Duck Commander from a living-room operation into a nationwide success. The line of products has expanded to include everything from T-shirts and cooking sauces to DVDs and license plates.
The man who started it all, though, is Phil Robertson, the family patriarch. He truly lives his passion, and even turned down the opportunity to play in the NFL in the 1960s because it interfered with duck season. (For the record, he played first-string quarterback ahead of NFL legend Terry Bradshaw at Louisiana Tech University.) Phil created the Duck Commander Duck Call in 1973, and it has become one of the most popular duck whistles ever made.
Willie's brother Jase would rather be in the swamp than earning his keep, but since he needs to contribute to the business, he's responsible for fabricating the famous Duck Commander calls. Jase's wife, Missy, is also prominently featured in the series, as is Willie's better half, Korie.
However, the most powerful "Duck Dynasty" female is undoubtedly Miss Kay, Phil's wife and the boys' mother. Kay is known far and wide for her cooking, and she often ends up feeding most of the neighborhood. Fans can find recipes for dishes like swamp-seasoned fried duck, duck fajitas and mustard-fried crappie on the Duck Commander website (duckcommander.com).
Si Robertson, Phil's brother and best friend, rounds out the "Duck Dynasty" cast. He makes the reeds that go in the duck calls, but he's easily distracted and often shares his stories of Vietnam with the guys.
The network is hoping viewers will flock to its latest family-oriented reality TV series, joining the ranks of "Dog the Bounty Hunter" and "Billy the Exterminator." Families that work together seem to be all the rage on television lately, even on A&E with Duane "Dog" Chapman and Billy Bretherton and their clans. The phenomenon also extends past A&E to History Channel's Harrison family in "Pawn Stars," TLC/Discovery Channel's Teutuls in the "American Chopper" franchise and the Kardashians in "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" on E!
Not all families "make it" on TV, of course, and "Duck Commander" should aim to avert the fate of another A&E series "American Hoggers." The series follows the Campbells, a Texas family that helps people on a mission to help those being overrun by wild boars. A&E originally had the show slated for summer, but later moved the premiere to October. "Hoggers" quickly came under fire from animal rights group PETA, which criticized the show for promoting cruel animal-control measures.
Animal-rights activists may not be impressed with a series that celebrates duck hunting either, but hardcore outdoorsmen and women have been buzzing about the series on online message boards, and the comments seem to be mostly positive. The only danger is that the series may only appeal to that specific niche market and alienate other viewers.
There's also the risk that some viewers may believe the show portrays small town folks as dim-witted hillbillies. But, the truth is, in a depressed economic climate, the Robertsons have found another way to cash in on their already successful business. And, they're far from a bunch of back-woods hicks. Willie, Jase, Phil and the others have built a sporting-goods empire, and are enjoying the fruits of their labors.
The good news is the Robertsons seem to have a sense of humor about themselves. On their A&E.com page, brothers Willie and Jase quip about the pros and cons of working with family, with Willie claiming "You can't fire your family when they screw up" as a con.
Such wit has already enamored some Duck Commander fans, thanks to the family's series of YouTube videos and DVDs that have chronicled the Robertsons' adventures in duck hunting over the years. Their onscreen rapport must have won A&E executives over. Tune in Wednesday, March 21, to meet the Robertsons in "Duck Dynasty."