The cable programmer said it consulted with advocacy groups and decided it will use the backlash as a teachable moment, launching a national public service campaign across its entire portfolio of networks promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people.
A&E initially suspended Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the "Duck Dynasty" clan, after he made graphic statements about homosexuality and his "Bible-thumping" beliefs. The comments have been condemned by organizations such as GLAAD.
But the Robertson family said it would not resume the series without its leader and conservative and religious groups protested the suspension. The issue raised questions of freedom of speech after Twitter blocked a pro-"Duck Dynasty" site.
"While Phil's comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs, and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the 'coarse language' he used and the mis-interpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would 'never incite or encourage hate.' We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article, and reiterate that they are not views we hold," A&E said in a statement.
In reinstating Phil, A&E looked to distance itself from his comments, saying "Duck Dynasty" is not a show about one man's views. "It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family… a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about."
For A&E, the financial stakes in canceling "Duck Dynasty" were significant. The reality series premiered to 11.8 million viewers in August, and while ratings eroded a bit during the season, the October finale still pulled 8.4 million viewers. A recent Christmas special drew 8.9 million viewers.
Retail partners including Target, Walmart and Cracker Barrel have stood by the series, keeping "Duck Dynasty" merchandise on their shelves.
The fifth season of the series will bow on Jan. 15.