Reality Showdown: Will 'Duck Dynasty' Spoil 'American Idol's' Reboot?

Jennifer Lopez and Phil Robertson
Jennifer Lopez and Phil Robertson
 Brad Barket/Invision/AP; A&E

This story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Is all press good press for Duck Dynasty? The A&E reality hit enters its fifth season Jan. 15, less than a month after star Phil Robertson's remarks about gay people and the Jim Crow South prompted a brief suspension and media furor.

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The show returns the same night as the 13th-season premiere of Fox's American Idol, which returns popular judge Jennifer Lopez to its panel (along with Keith Urban and newcomer Harry Connick Jr.). The A&E docuseries might seem an unlikely foil for TV's former champion, but Dynasty topped Idol by 34 percent in the 18-to-49 demographic when they most recently aired on the same night in April 2012. Even Idol's season finale that May didn't rise to Dynasty's highs, and a few months later Dynasty's fourth season opened to a network-best 11.8 million viewers and averaged 9.4 million during its run -- including a whopping 5.1 million in the 18-to-49 demo. Some believe the recent Robertson headlines could boost the show, at least temporarily.

"Staying in the press tends to extend the shelf life of reality series," says Sam Armando, senior vp and director of strategic intelligence at media-buying firm SMGx. "I'm not convinced it's going to miss a beat at all, and few will be surprised if the ratings come back higher."

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Whether all of this will translate to prolonged highs for cable's biggest unscripted player is the question. Reality series, from TLC's Jon & Kate Plus Eight to E!'s Kardashian portfolio, long have been able to correlate ratings with headlines. But the end of Kate and Jon Gosselin's marriage in 2009 happened on-air to the tune of nearly 11 million viewers, while this season of Dynasty was shot before Robertson's quotes made news.

And fatigue is a concern for shows like Dynasty. A&E is aggressive with rebroadcasts, mirroring Storage Wars' heyday when it aired dozens of encores weekly.

"What you're seeing is similar to what NBC is doing with The Voice: 'We have it. Let's use it while we can and get what we can out of it,' " says Armando. "If the ratings come down a little, it's because they're ready to -- not because of this controversy."

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