What a difference a year makes.
On March 21, 2012, A&E Network premiered the reality series "Duck Dynasty," profiling the Robertsons of Louisiana, who have made a tidy fortune from their company, Duck Commander, which manufactures handmade duck calls (there's also Buck Commander, which focuses on deer-hunting paraphernalia).
Almost immediately, the saga of Duck Commander CEO Willie Robertson and his nearest and dearest -- his wife, Korie; his parents, company founder Phil and Miss Kay; brothers Jase and Jep; and Phil's eccentric brother, Uncle Si -- became a runaway hit.
Although the Robertson men look like members of a ZZ Top tribute band (and ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" is the show's theme on A&E), with their long hair, flowing beards and varied collection of headgear -- especially Willie's signature bandannas -- "Duck Dynasty" offers a portrait of a functional family that works, plays and prays together.
Season 3 of the show launched late last month, with new episodes airing on Wednesdays.
Just after returning from a trip to the Super Bowl in New Orleans -- being reality TV stars has its perks -- Willie and Korie Robertson sat down to reflect on just why people can't get enough.
"I think it's our family," Korie tells Zap2it. "You've got a lot of reality shows about family. You've got the Kardashians and 'Here Comes Honey Boo Boo' and all that, and they're essentially about a family. What's different about ours is it's a little more functional.
"People relate to it, even though we're redneck or whatever. We're not like everyone in the country, but you can still relate."
The Robertsons also rely on their Christian faith to get through the day, and Willie believes that's another key to the appeal of the show.
"There's a big old crew of people out there," he says, "when they sniff it out ... we're not seeing this hardly anywhere else on TV, mixed into mainstream shows. We're not 'The 700 Club' or anything, but when you see that -- and it's just a little piece -- but they do react."
He's noticed the show does inspire people to do more than just watch.
"The show causes you to do something," he says. "[People have driven] seven hours to come to our place and take a photo of the building. That's a rare show that causes you to buy something or do something. You just get excited about it."
With so few scripted comedies or dramas that both interest and are suitable for whole families, reality series such as "Duck Dynasty" (and "Deadliest Catch," "Barter Kings," "Pawn Stars," "Baggage Battles," "Shark Tank," et al.) have become the new standard in family viewing.
"There are not many shows out there," says Korie, "that the whole family can agree upon. That's what we get a lot. People say, 'It's the only show my teenagers will watch with me,' or, 'In 17 years of marriage, it's the only show that my husband and I agree on.'
She also says that even the youngest viewers know the Robertsons' catchphrases, whether it's Uncle Si's "Hey!" or Phil's "Happy happy happy."
"We get 2-year-olds walking up and saying them," says Korie.
"I was with the A&E executives this weekend," says Willie. "One of the main guys was, like, 'Right show, right time, right network, right family, everything was right.' That's how it all came out.
"You don't feel bad about watching it. Even highly paid people can respect what we did, maybe not the way we did it, but they at least respect, 'Hey, ya'll figured out how to do that, with the duck calls. That's impressive, businesswise."
Speaking of business, it's pretty good.
"Duck call sales are up," says Willie. "It is out of control."
Adds Korie, "We can't build them fast enough."
And fear not, production is not about to move overseas.
"We're not outsourcing to China," Korie says. "We're still building them one duck call at a time, in our warehouse."
"We're 100 percent American redneck," says Willie.
Not all of those buyers are planning their next hunting trip.
"At this point," says Korie, "a lot of people are buying duck calls who don't hunt. We are selling duck calls to people who will never set foot in a duck blind."
"Duck Dynasty" fans can also buy T-shirts, jackets, hats, baby onesies, kitchenware, food products, coolers, air fresheners, rubber bracelets, mugs, lanyards, playing cards and posters. But that's only the beginning.
Willie says, "We have tons of licensing things that are coming out, everything from action figures to video games. You've got to have an action figure."
There might also be a movie.
"There's actually some wild ideas about what to do," says Willie, "which way to go, maybe with kids. I haven't gotten a call from any Hollywood producer on that, so I guess we'll stay tuned."
Photo/Video credit: A&E
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