The backwoods reality show “Duck Dynasty” drew 11.8 million viewers Wednesday night on A&E, the largest audience ever for a nonfiction telecast on cable television.
That total, which included 6.3 million viewers in the advertiser-preferred demographic of 25- to 54-year-olds, built on the high ratings won in April, at the conclusion of Season 3, when the audience reached 9.6 million.
The series follows the travails of the Robertson family of West Monroe, La., and their company, Duck Commander, which makes duck calls for hunters. The show mixes commerce, family life, the great outdoors and beards suitable for members of the band ZZ Top — sported by the patriarch of the family, Phil, and three of his sons.
“The Robertsons represent a lot of things we as Americans cherish,” said David McKillop, the general manager and executive vice president of the network: “Self-made wealth, independence, three generations living together.”
Though a reality show, McKillop said, “Duck Dynasty” fits nicely with the themes of classic family television.
“When the show came in, the direction I gave: This is not a hunting show,” he said. “Make this like ‘The Waltons.’”
The show’s popularity extends beyond TV. At a recent Wal-Mart meeting, the company announced that “Duck Dynasty” T-shirts were the best-sellers in its men’s, women’s and boys’ sections.
Wednesday’s episode, the premiere of Season 4, followed the Robertson children as they planned a wedding ceremony for Phil Robertson and his wife, Kay, who were married 48 years ago by a justice of the peace.
It also added a new character to the show: Beardless Robertson Male, as Neil Genzlinger described him in a recent New York Times review. He is Phil and Kay’s eldest son, Alan, a minister who performed the wedding.
With its nearly 12 million viewers, “Duck Dynasty” eclipsed the viewership totals of other intensely popular reality shows like “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” which in 2009 drew an audience of 10.6 million viewers to hear Jon and Kate Gosselin confirm that they were splitting up.