On its web site, A&E has a photo gallery of The Robertson family “taken during the PB (pre-beard) era.” Among other things, we see the boys playing golf, Jep and Jessica and their kids on the beach. There are also other, similar photos that have surfaced, such as Willie with frosted tips.
Using those photos as evidence, Washington Monthly’s Daniel Luzer argues that “the Robertsons aren’t rednecks” because these are “not the sort of photographs rednecks ever take.” He adds, “A&E appears to have taken a large clan of affluent, college-educated, mildly conservative, country club Republicans, common across the nicer suburbs of the old south, and repackaged them as the Beverly Hillbillies.”
Luzer also quotes a promo which said that Duck Dynasty is a “rags-to-riches story of a down-home family business with a heavily bearded band of hunting experts,” and then insists, “This is no such family. A&E just created its own rednecks.”
While there’s an interesting argument somewhere here, that’s simply not true. That’s because the bearded, duck-huntin’ Robertsons pre-date Duck Dynasty, which debuted in 2012.
In 2009, there was the Outdoor Channel series Benelli Presents Duck Commander, a far more documentary-style series that followed the Robertsons and their business. Watch the trailer: it’s all very familiar, including the beards.
And before that, there was Duck Commander Duckmen, which I haven’t watched, but which appears to be a lot of footage of the Robertsons slaughtering ducks.
So no, A&E did not create the Robertsons as we now know them. What Gurney Productions and A&E did was recognize that 1) they had really great characters who, 2) already had a lot of experience in front of the camera, and thus 3) could pull off being put into scripted scenarios.
As I’ve written, part of why Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ blew up was because reality overtook the fictional Robertsons. Yes, that fiction was constructed by A&E on some level, but it was fueled by the Robertsons themselves, who agreed to do this and had long before established the personas that would be used on Duck Dynasty. Whether or not those personas were real, or whether their appearance affects how truly “redneck” they are, is something that only they truly know. But they’ve certainly been these characters for quite some time.