But are "Duck Dynasty's" days numbered in the wake of the patriarch's polarizing comments on gays and African Americans?
Far from it.
"This controversy will quickly pass and do no damage to the brand," says David E. Johnson, CEO of the PR and branding agency Strategic Vision LLC. "The reason is that the controversy reinforced the brand image. The brand image of Robertson and 'Duck Dynasty' is that they speak their minds and live their lives as they believe best. His comments reinforced that image."
Indeed, the mobilization of die-hard "Duck" aficionados may only make the hit reality series even bigger when it returns to the airwaves on Jan. 15. But based on a survey of experts, A&E's swift, decisive move to suspend Robertson was the right one.
"I'm sure the A&E executives are sitting around a table going, 'We don't want another Paula Deen moment … We don't want to lose one of our biggest talents, but we're not going to put up with this kind of speech,'" crisis-PR strategist Howard Bragman tells "omg! Insider."
"This is not the kind of controversy they want on this show that's supposed to be about good, God-fearing, hard-working, likeable sorts of folks," adds Robert Thompson, professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University.
The experts recommend that Robertson stick to the celebrity image-rehab blueprint in the coming weeks.
"I'd suggest making a humble admission of crossing a line publicly, which he has done, and a sincere apology to those he offended," says Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants. After that, he suggests Robertson sit down for "a one-on-one interview with a trusted host, preferably from the gay and lesbian community, or someone that is popular amongst the LGBT community."
But Johnson counters: "At this point, he should say and do nothing else. Rather, he should let his defenders argue his case. In a month or so, he should grant an interview — I would recommend Oprah — and address the controversy and answer all the questions that might be asked."
"The family can't distance themselves from him … branding and public relations-wise, they need to stand by Robertson. Whatever they do, they don't need to attack A&E or sponsors. Let the fans speak for them."
Instead, Robertson can rely on others to publicly support him, including his family. On Thursday night, the camo-loving clan made their first statement since the headline-making interview hit the web, and showed nothing but love for their patriarch:
"We want to thank all of you for your prayers and support. The family has spent much time in prayer since learning of A&E's decision. We want you to know that first and foremost we are a family rooted in our faith in God and our belief that the Bible is His word. While some of Phil’s unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible. Phil is a Godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Phil would never incite or encourage hate. We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right. We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty. Again, thank you for your continued support of our family."
In the past two days, Robertson has the conservative A-list rushing to his defense, from Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity to Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal. And fans have flooded Twitter and comment sections speaking up for Robertson.
"Looking at his key audiences — older whites, evangelicals, outdoors types, and conservatives — his comments actually probably resonated with their beliefs and their image of him that his branding has developed," adds Johnson.
[Related: How 'Duck Dynasty' Became Such a Huge Hit]
And all the exposure will only benefit the show in the long run. "Likely the controversy will actually draw more people to check 'Duck Dynasty' out to see what all the media coverage is about," Johnson says. "From a public-relations standpoint, 'Duck Dynasty' is getting millions of dollars worth of free media coverage and reaching new people who will be intrigued by this controversy, and their followers have become even more dedicated."
Thompson agrees the show won't become toxic: "When all is said and done, I cannot imagine that this show is going to take a major hit in the ratings. I think when it comes back, it's probably going to be doing as well as it did before."
As for A&E's final judgement on Robertson and the show, Bragman says the network doesn't need to rush to make one.
"I think A&E should sit and wait to see what the public response is, and more importantly, how Phil acts. Does he show some level of remorse and is he willing to understand what he did was wrong, or will he continue to be belligerent and offensive?"
Despite Phil's suspension, he will almost certainly appear in Season 4 of the hit show, which wrapped filming months ago.
"The show can continue without Phil, but I think it's probably a better show with Phil. It's hard to take the patriarch of the family out; you can have him out for a few episodes, but a show without him is a different show," says Bragman. "It's the most popular show on cable TV. Its ratings are higher than many, many network shows, and I think A&E is going to work with the family to get it back on track."
As Schiffer puts it, "He won't get shot out of the sky over this, and shall fly for many more years to come."
Ultimately, the future of "Duck Dynasty" with Phil Robertson boils down to one simple factor.
"I don't think this is the end of 'Duck Dynasty,'" says Bragman. "Reality shows thrive on controversy. This family will work through the controversy, and I'm convinced that Phil will do what it takes to get back into it. There's too much money on the line for him."
—Additional reporting by Taryn Ryder
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