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December 28, 2013

Channel change

LOS ANGELES — A&E landed in the middle of America's culture wars when "Duck Dynasty" patriarch Phil Robertson sounded off on gays and the Bible. The channel 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 — or at least with those viewers who hold opposing views.

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 family itself, which had threatened to withdraw if Phil wasn't welcomed back, didn't rush out with its own make-nice reaction Friday. The gay right 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."

Randy Schmidt, a "Duck Dynasty" viewer in Illinois, said he's glad to see Robertson back on the show that Schmidt admires for its "Christian values."

Although he didn't care for Robertson's comments he has a right to express his opinions, Schmidt said. He added that he's likely not the only one pleased about Robertson's return.

"A&E's pocketbook will be happy, too," Schmidt predicted.

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 its "about-face."

"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.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who had said that Miley Cyrus got a pass for twerking on TV while Phil got shown the door, lauded A&E for putting tolerance for religious views above "political correctness."

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