Upon seeing my choice in light entertainment, my daughter’s dentist recommended we check out the TV show Duck Dynasty. I had heard of it before, but I had had no interest in watching a show about rich duck call manufacturers from Louisiana. As it turned out, it was a refreshing new sort of entertainment for our times. A reality show, but one clearly staged by select members of the Robinson family themselves, playing on the quirks and quibbles of their loved ones. There are no cat fights or feuds, or those left in tears. It looks like a close family which enjoys interacting with one another, and teasing each other in good nature. The situations are set up like a sit-com, and similarly resolved, such as the time the keystone character, Will, “buys” a winery online and the family proceeds to make “wine” haphazardly, or when zany uncle Si proceeds to down an extraordinary number of donuts and passes out in a sugar crash in the trailer he “won” in the donut house’s raffle. Each episode ends with the family around a dinner table, being led in prayer by the family patriarch.
It’s had such wide-spread appeal that last year, it broke all records for reality-TV viewership, and it is a marketing powerhouse. You can buy books, t-shirts, garden gnomes, and bobbleheads featuring the show’s core characters. The area vineyard which was shown in the Wil-buys-a-vinery episode now produces Duck Dynasty wine with national distribution. (I know it isn’t made as presented on the episode, but, personally, I’m not buying it.) And Duck Commander/Buck Commander, the Robinson family’s business, is undoubtedly getting more distribution and sales itself.
So it’s no surprise Hollywood has caught on to the appeal and various celebrities are trying to recreate it. I recently caught a few episodes of Wahlburgers, which brings together two famous brothers and one not-as-famous sibling who runs his own chain of upscale hamburger restaurants out of the Boston Area. The famous brothers are professional actors Mark Wahlberg and Donnie Wahlberg, who are very comfortable in front of the camera, and know how to play themselves to make an interesting show. Not as famous is their brother, Paul, who presents himself ably as an experienced chef and businessman. In the mix (so far) are their mother Alma, who seems to keep the whole mess under control by her intimate knowledge of all three. It hits on the same appealing themes of Duck Dynasty: family, friends, community, and enjoying funny stories about our friends. But after the third episode, Peter and I were already at the “meh” stage. I now know that Mark Wahlberg plays a lot of golf. He has a zany friend named Nacho who eats everything and literally anything. The famous brothers use their fame to promote their brother’s business. They grew up poor in Dorchester (which I already knew was Boston’s ghetto suburb because my friend Kyra lived there). So what? It’s not that exciting or exotic to me. I can get just as interesting a story without the celebrity angle by calling Kyra. However, I am more inclined to try a dish from Walhburgers, if I see one. I also suspect an Alma Wahlburger cookbook is already being printed in anticipation of a Duck Dynasty marketing boom.
On top of that, I see that actress Leah Remini is also now doing her own reality TV show about her family….because they, too, are bunch of funny, zany characters with amusing stories to share. And I am sure they will be amusing stories. But I’m already beginning to feel we’re on the verge of seeing a new style of TV show not much more entertaining than talk-show fodder stretched out onto a reality TV stage. And I’m getting tired of it already.