Credit: A&E

Maybe there is such a thing as bad publicity?

Though Duck Dynasty was expected by some to return to its biggest ratings yet after its huge controversy last month, the Louisiana-based reality show returned to lower viewership than its previous two premieres.

Wednesday night’s Duck Dynasty season 5 premiere had 8.5 million viewers. That’s huge for a cable reality show, but down 28 percent from its record-setting fourth season debut in August (11.8 million). It’s also slightly down from the show’s third season premiere in February last year (8.6 million). A&E notes the number up slightly from the fourth season finale on Oct. 23 (though obviously it’s standard to compare premieres to premieres).

Duck Dynasty provoked a heated controversy last month after co-star Phil Robertson criticize gays during a magazine interview, as well as made inflammatory comments about blacks during the Civil Rights era. A clip showing Robertson advocating marrying underage girls added to the furor. A&E initially announced they were suspending Robertson, then reversed its decision after fans protested. Last night’s episode and most of the rest of the current season was shot before the controversy. Presumably because of the controversy, the Robertson clan and producers were not made available for media interviews to promote the new season. Duck Dynasty came back the same night as Fox’s American Idol, which was also down. EW’s recap of the Duck premiere here.