'Duck Dynasty' soars on Wings of Kimmel-Morrissey feather-fluffing

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A Jimmy Kimmel/Morrissey catfight over a show about duck-call manufacturers has handed A&E network its biggest audience ever.

Nearly 9 million people watched Wednesday night’s third-season debut of “Duck Dynasty” — one night after “DD” family members appeared on Kimmel’s ABC late-night show, getting Morrissey’s knickers in a knot.

“Duck Dynasty” is now the No. 1-rated nonfiction series on cable this year.

The back-to-back episodes with which “Duck Dynasty” opened its third season more than doubled the franchise’s second-season launch.

According to Bluefin Labs, Trendrr.TV and Social Guide, “Duck Dynasty” also had more activity across social-media platforms Wednesday night than “American Idol.”

In case you’re among the uninitiated: “Duck Dynasty” follows the Robertson family, whose business making products for duck hunters (primarily a duck call) has become a multimillion-dollar deal. The Robertson men don’t like to shave; the women look like extras on a “Real Housewives” franchise.

To put the show’s nearly 9 million fans in perspective: That’s a bigger crowd than achieved by any of NBC’s prime-time shows on any night last week. NBC’s most-watched series, “Chicago Fire,” averaged 6.5 million viewers.

It also drew a bigger audience than anything watched on Fox except “American Idol.”

It’s a crowd that only a handful of ABC shows exceeded last week — the handful being “The Bachelor,” “Castle,” “Modern Family,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and the Academy Awards.

And it goes without saying that “Duck Dynasty” beat everything on CW.

But wait — there’s more!

“Duck Dynasty’s” audience was about 3 million more people than tuned in to ABC’s “Good Morning America” last week to watch the much-ballyhooed, star-studded return of co-host Robin Roberts, who had been on medical leave from the show since August to undergo a bone-marrow transplant after a diagnosis of a rare blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) — likely caused by treatment for breast cancer five years earlier.

That “GMA” featured welcome-back messages from no less than President Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Denzel Washington, Sally Field, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lopez and the cast of “Modern Family”!

Not only that: “Good Morning America’s” audience last week also was that franchise’s biggest audience in more than 19 years.

(On Wednesday of last week, when Roberts actually returned, nearly 7 million viewers tuned in.)

And finally, the “Duck Dynasty” season-debut audience is about 6 million stronger than Kimmel’s audience last week.

Kimmel worked like a beaver this week to hype the “Duck Dynasty” debut.

First, he invited the clan to be his guests the night before their return on A&E. That caused former Smiths frontman Morrissey, who was supposed to perform on the show that night, to cancel.

Morrissey is well-known as an animal rights campaigner — the kind of guy who insists that Los Angeles’ Staples Center be a meat-free zone the night of his performance, and who refers to the Robertsons as “animal serial killers.”

That night on his show, Kimmel said that he respected Morrissey’s position but that he had not dumped the Robertsons because “they have guns and Morrissey doesn’t.”

Morrissey, Kimmel concluded, “keeps finding ways to depress us.”

At which point, Kimmel’s opening blah, blah, blah was interrupted by an “ad” in which the Robertsons plugged their newest product: a carrot caller, which makes a noise that causes young carrots to jump out of the soil and into their mouths.

Morrissey was not amused, issuing another sternly worded statement that said he was disappointed to see Kimmel “ridicule depression,” “ridicule healthy eating” and ridicule “the notion that animals should be entitled to the possession of their own lives.”

“Furthermore, he found time to jokingly promote gun ownership — hugely amusing for the parents at Sandy Hook, no doubt,” Morrissey added for good measure.

“None of the above issues are, of course, as important as Jimmy Kimmel himself,” Morrissey concluded, like he meant it to sting.

Before Kimmel and Morrissey began taking swipes at each other, “Jimmy Kimmel Live” said that Morrissey would be rescheduled on a non-”Duck Dynasty” night.

Now, don’t hold your breath.

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