Have you ever heard of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty”? If not, no worries. It’s probably not the typical television fare your average Boardwalk Empire/Mad Men/Game of Thrones/The Walking Dead viewer would watch. It’s reality show about a family of hayseed duck hunters who invented a duck caller that made them all very, very rich, so it’s something akin to a reality version of The Beverly Hillbillies, except instead of moving to Hollywood, they kept their wealth in Louisiana, where they mix Southern living with luxury cars.
The show is huge. It’s been growing over the first two seasons, but this week, the third season premiere blasted everything out of the water, ratings-wise. In addition to being the most watched reality show of the entire year, in the 18-49 demo, it beat everything on Wednesday night, including “American Idol” and “Modern Family” (as the Times noted, it also beat everything that’s aired on NBC for the last two months).
Given the huge ratings of the show, I actually sat down and watched the season three premiere last night. Obviously, I’m not the target audience (in fact, by the end of the episode I’d fallen asleep), but I was mostly stunned at how completely scripted the show is. It’s a “reality” show in only the loosest sense: They are real people, who really live in Louisiana, and who really own a duck-calling business. Otherwise, it was fairly obvious from the multi-camera angles, the obviously written jokes, and the contrived situations that there was very little separating Duck Dynasty from most sitcoms, save for a laugh track.
I don’t want to completely dismiss the show as the next coming of Charlie Sheen or anything because The Robertson family has some down-home authentic charm, and I could see why people from my hometown in the South, say, might appreciate being represented on television. The “characters” also have some talent; they read their lines very well. They’re also very game about playing up their own stereotypes, for better or worse.
Given the number of pieces I’ve seen over the last year or so about the fabrication of reality television, from “Storage Wars” to “Breaking Amish” to “Joe Schmo” — which is designed to be a fake reality competition — it’s clear that reality programming is a fiction, but I think as long as we understand that, it’s relatively harmless as a concept, although the exaggeration of certain stereotypes is obviously harmful from a certain cultural perspective.
In 2013, reality television is just people playing versions of themselves, and while “Duck Dynasty” may be one of the more egregious examples (although I understand that in the show, “Double Divas,” it’s obvious the reality participants are reading from cue cards), it’s nothing new. I’m sure there is some angle I could take that would allow me to work up some outrage, but it would be as feigned as the reality in these shows. “Duck Dynasty” is a dumb show, not because it’s scripted reality, but because it’s dumb. You only have to see the Robertson family, pre-beard, to understand how completely fabricated the show is.