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December 28, 2013

Channel change

(Continued)

LOS ANGELES — Other shows have weathered their outspoken talent by simply bouncing them or not blocking their departure: Think Isaiah Washington on "Grey's Anatomy," fired in 2007 for referring to one of his show's gay actors with a pejorative, or Alec Baldwin exiting his new MSNBC talk show after using gay slurs off the air.

But A&E found that easy road blocked for a reality show celebrity who was too real for some, just right for others.

Within a day of Robertson's removal, more than a half-million people liked an impromptu Facebook page demanding A&E be boycotted until he returns. A petition calling for A&E to bring him back reached 250,000 signatures and counting in about a week.

The controversy similarly ensnared the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain, which removed "Duck Dynasty"-related merchandise from its shelves and then reversed course and apologized after being hit with complaints.

While TV ratings tend to fluctuate, particularly during the holidays when viewing drops, the overall A&E audience was smaller after it landed in "Duck" soup than before.

For the week of Dec. 16-22, the channel averaged 1.5 million viewers, compared to 2 million for the week before, according to Nielsen figures.

During the week of Dec. 17-23 last year, a roughly comparable period to the post-Robertson flap week, the channel averaged 1.73 million viewers.

"Duck Dynasty" is the channel's highest-rated program and set a reality show record for cable with nearly 12 million viewers for its fourth-season debut this past summer.

Last week, the family said in a statement on its Duck Commander website (http://bit.ly/1c5vI5G ) that although some of Phil Robertson's comments were coarse, "his beliefs are grounded" in the Bible and he "is a Godly man." They also said that "as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm."

"Duck Dynasty" is on hiatus until Jan. 15, and the network has said that nine of next season's 10 episodes have already been filmed. That means Robertson likely wasn't needed in front of the camera before next March.

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