Monday, March 12, 2012

Duck Dynasty: The mainstreaming of duck hunting, or just another hillbilly show? Or both?

Hmmmmmmmm ... so much to say on this topic. Let's start with the word in my headline that is most likely to be interpreted as a pejorative: "hillbilly." I assure you it is not, at least not on my part. Having spent five years in the South, I cringe when I hear any region of the South and its people being mocked, and it happens with some frequency.

But I used this word for a reason, which I will get to shortly. But first:

Something interesting happened last year in the world of hunting TV. First, the bad news: Steven Rinella's outstanding hunting show, "The Wild Within," did not get picked up for a second season on the Travel Channel.

Thankfully, Rinella didn't disappear: He now has a show called "Meat Eater" on the Sportsman Channel, and it's still outstanding. But I'm disappointed that Rinella and his message about the value of hunting for your own food won't be out there for mainstream audiences anymore.

At the same time that was going on, I heard a rumor that Duck Commander was leaving the Outdoor Channel for ... A&E.

A&E? Seriously? You're going to put ducks getting shot out of the sky on A&E? It didn't make sense, but when I saw Duck Commander was still on the Outdoor Channel last year - unfortunately at hours that didn't work for me - I figured the rumors must've been wrong.

But it turns out they were right. I was searching for a duck recipe on Hank's blog this weekend and there it was in an ad on the search page: Duck Dynasty - a new show on A&E, debuting March 21.

Well, I'll be damned. If you click on that Duck Dynasty link, I think you'll see that this show has the potential to be every bit as entertaining as the hunting show on the Outdoor Channel was, because the Robertsons are just plain interesting and entertaining people.

But the question remained: Why the Duck Commander crew move to A&E even as Rinella was leaving mainstream TV?

I got what might be part of the answer to that question second-hand, from a TV industry insider: "Hillbillies" are in these days.

Ah yes, how could I have forgotten? The History Channel's "Swamp People," a show about Louisiana alligator hunters, has been a monster success.

Who doesn't love alligator hunter Troy Landry? If I walk through a crowd at my university shouting, "Shooooot 'em! Shooooooooooooot 'em!," chances are that everyone around me will know exactly what I'm talking about - and they'll start laughing.

And not necessarily in a negative way. I don't think people love to make fun of Troy and his thick Cajun accent; I think they just love Troy. And thanks to Troy, a television industry already obsessed with reality shows has concluded that thick-accented Southern characters are a golden ticket. Especially if they kill things for a living.

I'm not surprised that America likes a show about killing alligators. Alligators are scary. They can eat us for breakfast.

But is America ready for a show about a family whose business is rooted in killing birds that are widely regarded as cute and harmless? Will the Robertson family charm make it palatable to the masses?

I guess we'll start getting the answer to that on March 21, 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central). I'll be watching.

© Holly A. Heyser 2012


Hil said...

It's almost impossible not to love Troy. Even my 7-year-old loves Troy and, inexplicably, Willie. You're right that rednecks/hillbillies/country folk are all the rage these days. Even more specifically, Louisianans are all the rage. From Swamp People to the Bayou Billionaires on CMT to Shelby Stanga on Ax Men.

I loved the Duck Commander show because Phil Robertson is such a character. All of the Robertsons are. And the Duck Commander show was always just as much about them and their business as it was about killing ducks. I'm not too shocked that they're moving a little more mainstream. I will be interested to see how much actual hunting is shown in the new show. The way they're promo-ing it makes me think it'll sway very heavily to the personality side and the hunting will sort of just be in the background. I guess we'll see.

Mike Dwyer said...

I'm worried it will be very light on hunting. 'Swamp People' never shows the gators actually being hit. I don't know how you can do Duck Commander without showing birds folding over flooded timber.

I'm crossing my fingers but keeping my hopes low.

troutbum43 said...

My only problem is that the Robertson's have long expressed their distain for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and federal land management in general, in addition to spewing numerous quotes like "My idea of heaven is a mess of mallards and no game warden in sight." The few times they came to New Mexico to hunt are still locally legendary for how big of jackasses they were. Suffice to say I am not a friend of Phil and am not happy that Steven Rinella, a true hunter isn't on "prime time" but these guys are. Not suprised of course though. CHOOT IT!

Holly Heyser said...

Hil and Mike: I really searched through the website and while I did't see any video of hunting, I did see several photos of them in the blinds, so it shouldn't be totally absent.

But Mike, you're right about Swamp People not showing the hit. Can I say I hate that underwater shot they always do, looking up at the gun? And how interesting it is that instead of showing the shot, they show the alligator's view?

Troutbum: Yeah, I've heard that too. They definitely have a lot of negatives. I have a friend who will not buy any of their products because she's heard Phil speak and found him to be a total misogynist. Then there was my own experience being ignored at their booth at the first SHOT Show I went to because I was a female who obviously couldn't be interested in duck hunting.

I agree about Rinella too, but I'm guessing that in addition to having the wrong accent for TV these days, he's also not extreme enough, and TV is all about extreme right now. I've talked to several producers over the past few years who were scoping me out for show ideas, and it was clear I was not extreme enough for them.

Producer: Do you do any really extreme duck hunting?

Me: Well, I hunted once when it was about 10 degrees out. Damn, that was cold.

Producer: Nothing else?

Me: Uhhhhh... I get up at 2:30 a.m. and hunt until sunset.

Producer: Hmmmm. OK. Thanks.

hodgeman said...

As a lifelong Southerner (now relocated to the Far North) the rule of thumb has always been- "Only the most ignorant among us get on television."

Maybe that's just cynical, but when you hear Steve Rinella speak and realize his show takes second fiddle to the likes of what passes for entertainment these days, then I guess it's not too far off.

Holly Heyser said...

I'm sure that's well-earned cynicism, Hodgeman.

Brian said...

The more I watched Duckmen the less I liked it - narrow minded, religious proselytizers of the worst kind - "I was a whore monger and drunk until I found jesus". Good for them, maybe if they just keep cracking duck skulls with their teeth we wont have to listen that dribble.
The rumors of disdain for conservation authorities wins no prizes either...maybe if Jeff Foiles got a cool accent and wild hair he would be on prime time too? I agree that the kind of hunting we need on primetime is a erudite person like Rinella. However knowledge and articulate rationale doesn't sell, novelty does.

Peter said...

Duck Commander on A&E and Swamp People on the History Channel are illustrations of a phenomenon known as "channel drift," in which cable channels that originally focused on specific programming niches abandon these focuses and instead show cheap-to-produce reality shows that are entirely unrelated to their original missions. TLC is perhaps the most extreme example. A channel originally devoted to learning (aka The Learning Channel) now shows Toddlers & Tiaras.

Kevin said...

So much truth up in here!

To get it dead on, it has to be “CHOOT EM!! CHOOT EM!!”

Holly, thanks for standing up for us. I don’t support degrading peoples based on any state or region and it irks me to hear and see it so frequently. While traveling, I have been offended when someone in a meeting inquires about where I am from and the look on their face and their response is genuine surprise and shock.

@hodgeman – It’s a damn good theory.

Holly Heyser said...

You're welcome! One of my co-workers in Richmond, Virginia, was from Roanoke and had a really thick accent. I always wanted to see her work out of the South because I knew people would underestimate her, and she would absolutely kick their ass.

Fun fact: Troy Landry yelled "Shooot 'em! Shooooooot 'em!" (or choot 'em) into my voicemail last year. My friend Phillip ran into him at the SHOT Show and knowing I loved that guy, Phillip asked him to leave me that message. Sadly, the cell reception was so bad where they were at that moment that I couldn't make heads nor tails of it - Phillip had to tell me who it was and what he said.

Josh said...

Holly, that is AWESOME about Troy leaving a message on your phone. My sister wants to work with Liz, by the way.

The thing is, the folks they found for Swamp People are top-notch entertainers. It's a rare find.

I don't like Duck Commander, but then again, I don't like "reality" TV (just another place where good writing has been undercut), I rarely like hunting TV, and I can't stand the stereotypes that get promoted.

Maybe they'll have Mitt Romney on there playing an "away" game.

GSP Russ said...

I live about 30 minutes from Foiles' shop and his former hunting ground. To some, around here, he got singled out and is a hero and to others he's a heel. I'm in the latter group. The Robertsons talk a lot about questionable hunting practices, but the whole Duck Commander show is so contrived, scripted and campy that you don't really know what they are like. I like their show, but I spend as much time rolling my eyes as I do guffawing.

I saw Phil talk, show off and proselytize at a wild game dinner a few years ago and I enjoyed his schtick. It was entertainment.

I will watch the new show on A&E, but I watched the 21 minute trailer and it looks as scripted, contrived and campy as Duck Commander.

AS far as their products go I don't have any of their duck slaughtering DVD's, but I do own a couple of their calls and I like them.

duck hunting said...

After watching the show we can make some good comment on it.

GSP Russ said...

Okay, I watched it. DVR'd it and watched as soon as it was done. I think it's a good thing I was already familiar with the family, because otherwise the new viewer has to be confused as hell. Too herky-jerky. Hard to keep up with or make sense of what was going on. Never seen Swamp People, though, so maybe it's the same way and I hear lots of "noise" about it.

GSP Russ said...

I guess I was wrong. I mentioned this show in very vague passing to a "citified" co-worker at lunch yesterday. He saw it in his satellite guide last night and watched the entry episode and the following episode and pronounced himself "hooked" this morning. He was quite taken with Phil, all the hair, their business success, way of life, mannerisms, mind-set, etc. Go figure.

Holly Heyser said...

I agree with you totally - this one felt very "herky-jerky" to me too. I liked the Outdoor Channel show better.

I also really hated how the teaser showed them standing up to shoot at ducks, then showed a decoy being tossed in the water. If you're going to be too chicken-shit to show killing, please don't fake it with plastic ducks.

But I know my feelings on this are irrelevant because I'm an extreme minority.

steve said...

was educated in hunting by folks like the robertsons, and have gotten good at it. sports, who aren t that lucky,need to be exposed to the craft from robertsons perspective. foiles, the calhoun co. redneck, and a self-made good ole boy, is still from north of st. louis and mite lack the color and charisma. have never heard a female outside texas use chiken-shit as a noun, and i congratulate norcal on that, and the kick-ass make-up. bon chasse.

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