More than 8.5 million heard the “Duck Dynasty” call Wednesday, as the A&E juggernaut returned to strong but far from record-breaking ratings — less than a month after a firestorm of controversy engulfed the show.
This number is about the same as its recent Christmas special as well as its 2013 bow last February, but well below its record-setting fourth-season opener of last August.
On a night that included original series episodes on every broadcast network — including the season premiere of Fox’s “American Idol” — “Duck Dynasty” ranked as the evening’s No. 2 program among adults 18-49. Its 4.2 million viewers in the demo (a 3.3 rating) put it behind only “Idol” (4.6) and slightly ahead of ABC’s “Modern Family” (3.2)
The fifth-season premiere was taped before family patriarch Phil Robertson was quoted in GQ magazine equating homosexuality to bestiality, among other comments. His incendiary remarks surfaced Dec. 18, and A+E Networks quickly put Robertson on “indefinite” suspension.
The Robertson clan responded a day later by saying they would not continue filming the show without Phil, and social media and cable news pundits spent much of Christmas week discussing the controversy. On Dec. 27, A+E said Robertson would be back when filming of “Duck Dynasty” resumes in the spring, and promised to run a public-service campaign to preach tolerance.
One week before the Phil Robertson comments were released by GQ, on Dec. 11, “Duck Dynasty” warmed up for its fifth season Wednesday night by drawing a big 8.9 million viewers for the show’s holiday episode — up vs. a similar special one year earlier by 21% in the demo and 37% in overall audience.
Duck Dynasty” exploded when it kicked off its fourth season last August, with its 11.8 million total viewers the largest audience for a nonfiction series telecast in cable history. The show about a Louisiana family also set an A&E record as the biggest telecast in the network’s history in all key demos.
It went on to average 9.15 million same-night viewers for its summer episodes.
For calendar year 2013, “Duck Dynasty” was among the biggest programs on all of television in key younger demos. When including full-week DVR playback, its original episodes averaged a 6.0 rating in adults 18-49 (7.6 million in this age group) — fourth among all primetime series, behind only “The Walking Dead,” “Sunday Night Football,” “The Big Bang Theory” and tied with “Modern Family.”
And among persons 12-34, “Duck Dynasty’s” average of 3.1 million viewers ranked third, trailing “Walking Dead” and “Sunday Night Football.”