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Friday, May 11, 2012

Interview: Willie Robertson of A&E's Duck Dynasty

Posted By on Fri, May 11, 2012 at 4:53 PM

  • A&E
For this week's Gambit, I wrote a cover story about how Louisiana became the setting for a bunch of reality TV shows the last few years. One popular genre of Louisiana reality TV is shows about the backwood folks of the state's swamps and bayous — a trend set by History's Swamp People. The latest in that category is A&E's Duck Dynasty, which follows the family behind the West Monroe duck-call retailer Duck Commander. I talked to Willie Robertson, the CEO of the store, about life and business since the show premiered, being on TV, and the guys from Swamp People. You can catch Duck Dynasty at 9 p.m. Wednesdays on A&E.

How has life changed since the show?

I’m a lot more recognized in West Monroe, Louisiana, I can tell you that for sure.

How’s business been?

Business has been unbelievable. Overwhelming. We have lots of orders, a lot of online orders, lot of people coming by the office — which we have quite figured out how we’re gonna do that yet. They’re pouring in from all over — Canada, and all across the U.S. Folks are coming in and trying to get a glimpse of where we shoot and all that. They’re buying a few things, which is good. (West Monroe) Tourism said they’re getting tons of calls from people wanting to come into the area and check out what else there is to do in West Monroe while they’re here, because they want to see the Duck Dynasty place. It’s been great.

You did a series with the Outdoor Channel before this show. What appeals to you about being on TV?

(Laughs) I've never gotten that question. I think, for us, it’s just about our brand. The Outdoor Channel at the time made sense because of our brand; we wanted to promote our brand so we could help sell products. That’s a real targeted audience. You know pretty much the people who watch that network will have the propensity to buy outdoor products like duck calls and stuff like this. When this came along, we saw it as another opportunity to build our brand and to perhaps go into other areas and get way more national and international exposure for our brand, our calls, or whatever else we wanted to venture off into.

I imagine it’s been different this time around, because A&E has a much bigger reach than The Outdoor Channel.

Yeah, it’s night and day. There’s really no comparison. We were pretty well known in our circle of the outdoors so when we would show up to an outdoors show, pretty much everyone would know who we were. And with the beards and the hair, they know that, too, obliviously. Then, travelling around, you’d get people who would recognize you. But with this, this is night and day. I haven’t been able to travel as much as I typically do because with filming the show we’ve been so locked down here, but the few trips I have been on is the same way. It’s a lot of the same, whatever city or town you’re in, you’re just so much more recognized. Of course we stick out so much — you're not just on TV but you have a really distinct look— so it’s kind of hard to hide in the crowd.

I read you're aquainted with Troy and Jacob Landry from Swamp People. I imagined you compared notes before doing the show. What did you learn from them about being on reality TV?

I did (learn) in some respects. We were trying to keep this low-key at first, not trying to let everything out that we were even doing the show, the network’s pretty cautious about that.

I actually met those guys in an airport in Memphis and Jacob, the son, came up to me. I had never watched the show, I didn’t know a whole lot about it. He came up, and he had that thick Cajun accent, and I couldn’t hardly understand what he was saying. He kept saying “Swamp People” and “Duck Commander.” I was actually laying down, and I realized I was kind of being rude, I was so tired . And I looked up, thought he was a fan, and said “hey, buddy” and then I said “are you one of the Swamp People?” and he said “yeah.” He kept saying “there’s Troy! There’s Troy!” I knew who Troy was, and I looked over and there’s the whole family. And actually his brother had on a Duck Commander T-shirt. So I went over and met them, and we’ve been good friends ever since.

I asked him questions early on, but they do such a different thing. They’re only in production for a month [alligator season is just in September], then they’re over. That would be very nice to only have to film for a month and then you got all your shows. And theirs is different in that it’s not just about them, there’s a lot of other guys, so it’s a different show altogether. But I definitely ask them a few things, and I’ve met several other people before who kind of knew about us, like Todd Hoffman from [Discovery Channel's] Gold Rush, and he actually helped out a lot, just giving me tips and things.

But we had made TV, and we had done the whole thing, so we knew enough so it wasn’t so overwhelming. I have another show called Buck Commander on the Outdoor Channel … so we weren’t blown away. I think we were a little blown away by how much it reached out. But we were prepared, and got our companies prepared.

The hardest thing, for us, is to run your company while you’re actually doing the show. I haven’t figured out how to do all that exactly yet, because once the show started airing, and then we’re still filming, and it just gets crazier and crazier. And for us, this is typically an off-time. You think about hunting season’s in the winter. Christmas, November — that’s when we’re really hot and heavy. We’re hunting and we’re selling, that’s when everyone’s buying products. This is pretty much the slow time of the year, but it just got to be now how it is at that time of the year. It’s hard to manage that, but our staff did well, and we definitely prepared them as much as we could. We really didn’t know how to prepare the orders and duck calls. Wasn’t sure that a guy would buy a duck call just because he liked the show. You know, a duck call’s a pretty specific product to go out for a specific purpose, but duck call orders have increased, so apparently people are buying them. Don’t know if they’re using them or not, but they’re certainly buying them.

What’s the production schedule like?

For us, it went way over — supposed to be through March 9 but it ended up being mid-April for a whole host of reasons. It’s hard, I ain’t gonna lie, by the end it was ten, 12 hours a day for seven days a week. Every day it was tough banging it all out. It’s a really hard show to make. It’s sort of like a sitcom, but it’s reality, too. It’s tough; it’s not things that naturally happen. Like there’s gonna be gators for Swamp People; you’re gonna have gators at the end of the line. … Ours is stories of our lives, so they’re a little harder to produce.

Why do you think the reality shows set in Louisiana are so popular?

I think it’s just the culture. There’s so many personalities down here in Louisiana, and … there’s just so many characters in this state. The way the culture is — it’s why I’d never live in another state — it’s so unique. You’d have to live here to get it. I think things we don’t even think about that folks around the country just look at and go “Wow, I guess that’s one way to do it. That’s one way to think about life.” Whether it’s our food, hunting, outdoors or whatever we’re doing, I think as a state we’re passionate and it comes across and makes it a little more interesting to watch on TV.

Do you enjoy watching Duck Dynasty or does it make you cringe?

Oh, I absolutely love it. You gotta remember — if I’m not in a scene, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what happened. So It’s fun to watch whatever dad was doing that day, and I’ll get tickled myself and laugh. I haven’t done that with every show, but this one I really like watching. I don’t watch them over and over, but yeah I definitely watch. … I like watching them on my big TV, and I got a little group here, some of my family, my little brother and his wife, the in-laws come over and we all sit here and watch it, and hell, we get tickled just like everybody else.

Has doing the show affected your family dynamic and any way?

Again, we had done enough so we were used to being on TV for sure. Other than the time that the took, as far the bigger family — the brothers and that — we spent more time together these past five months than we probably have in years since we were kids, since we were together every day filming the show. It actually brought us together, and I think that it made us closer, which is probably not typical for shows. How you handle that is the trick. But being with your family keeps you grounded, and if anyone starts getting a big head somebody else will remind them of who they are and what they came from.

Do you watch any of the other reality TV shows set here?

I don’t watch a whole lot of reality shows, I'm not a big reality show guy, but I watched Billy’s show [A&E's Billy the Exterminator], I watch Swamp People ... I try to keep up with Troy and Jacob. We actually hunt together up in the middle part of the state, so we get together and share stories and boo-hoo to eachother about how hard it is doing reality shows.

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