Aug 27, 2013

Reality TV Stars’ Family

Reality TV Stars’ Family, Want to make Phil Robertson happy, happy, happy? Follow up a chat in his shotgun-stocked ATV by agreeing to sample one of his homemade southern delicacies.

Any fan of A&E’s Duck Dynasty-the hit reality show starring Phil, 67, alongside his extended, extremely funny family-knows that the rugged, camo-clad outdoorsman loves his adventurous proteins, from frog legs to squirrel. Which is why it comes as a mild shock when he ambles into the kitchen of his modest home in West Monroe, La., unscrews the cap from a mason jar, and offers up a heaping spoonful of jelly. “It’s mayhaw,” he says, referring to the wild red berry that’s harvested by wading through swamps infested with poisonous cottonmouth snakes. Fittingly, the jelly, while delicious, has a bite to it. “That bought stuff’s watered down so much,” adds Phil. “We make it a bit stronger, because we like that tart flavor.”

Mayhaw jelly aside, life is pretty sweet these days for the bushy-bearded Robertsons, whose Duck Dynasty has become the golden goose of reality TV. The show-about a family that got rich (but stayed humble) making products geared toward hunters-did well when it premiered in spring 2012 but grew exponentially after that; its third-season finale in April drew 9.6 million viewers, a record for A&E, and it was the year’s No. 1 nonfiction cable series.

Why have so many heeded this Duck call? Surely the answer begins with the close-knit clan: patriarch Phil, a former star quarterback at Louisiana Tech University who turned down a pro tryout for fear it would take away from hunting, and his spunky wife of 49 years, Miss Kay; their sons, ambitious Willie, dry-witted Jase, and quietly competitive Jep, all of whom work for the family business, Duck Commander; their wives and kids; and Phil’s endearingly odd younger brother Si, a Vietnam vet who’s full of tall tales and mischief but who also offers up pearls of backwoods wisdom. When season four starts Aug. 14, expect to see another Robertson: Phil and Kay’s eldest (clean-shaven!) son, Alan, who rejoined the business last year after more than two decades as a preacher at the devoutly Christian family’s church.

Unlike most rural southerners represented on reality TV, the Robertsons are savvy and intentionally funny; and unlike pretty much everyone else in the unscripted genre, they’re more interested in coming together than tearing each other apart. Look no further than the closing scene of each episode, when the family gathers around the dinner table to say grace and break bread. “For so long we thought only bad behavior made good television,” says David McKillop, executive vice president and general manager of A&E and an executive producer of the series. “This is one of the rare exceptions. They’re great folk. There’s also a sense of integrity and a don’t know that I know,” he says, “is whatever way I roll in, they’re my family; I know how to best work them and work with them.”

Doing the show has brought the clan “a whole lot closer,” says Willie. “It’s probably the opposite of most reality shows. And nobody gets a big head because we’re doing it all together.” They renegotiated their contract with the network earlier this year, though both McKillop and the family decline to discuss specifics. But Willie does allow that part of the negotiation focused on a lighter shooting schedule. “Now we’ve gotten it to where there are some breaks,” he says, “and there’s some times that we can live life, too.”

At least one Robertson sees an end in sight. When asked how long he plans to be a part of the show he helped create, Phil says, “Not long. But I think it’ll go on without me.”

And what will he do then? He ponders the question as he sits in the camo-covered recliner in his living room. “Catch a few fish,” he finally says. “Hunt squirrels, deer, ducks. Stay out in the woods. Come in. Make the jam. Enjoy life.”