Inside a giant tent at New York’s Lincoln Center in May, Phil Robertson strolls onstage. He’s wearing camouflage pants, wraparound sunglasses, and a solid-black long-sleeve shirt that accentuates his signature beard, which is off-white, unruly, and of ZZ Top proportions. Before him are a multitude of linen-draped tables, where media buyers from advertising companies sip wine, nibble on plantain chips, and listen to yet another pitch on how they should spend their clients’ budgets. This is advertising “upfront” season in New York, and Robertson, a cast member on A+E Networks’ runaway blockbuster reality program Duck Dynasty, is one of the stars of tonight’s show. Duck Dynasty, which features a charismatic family in West Monroe, La., that runs a multimillion-dollar duck-hunting equipment business, is the biggest hit series ever for A+E Networks. While relentlessly mocking each other, the Robertsons drive pickup trucks through backcountry roads and dive headlong into screwball adventures, guns blazing. At the end of each episode, the family gathers around a table for supper, says a prayer, and offers a sweet spoonful of country wisdom. The final episode of the show’s third season, which aired on the A&E channel on April 24, was watched by 9.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen, beating everything on both cable and broadcast television that night in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic, including the NBA playoffs and Fox’s American Idol.
With cameras flashing, Robertson makes his way to the front of the stage and hands a camo sports jacket to Mel Berning, A+E Networks’ head of ad sales. Berning sheds his conservative gray jacket and pulls it on. “Mel, that’s what I’m talking about,” Robertson says. “What do you think, folks?”