Holy smoke! The Bible series, a landmark television event on A&E Networks’ History Channel, had over 27 million cumulative viewers tuned in to all or part of the premiere a week ago. It was the #1 show for the night, beating out all the networks (yes, including ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.) Episodes will air on Sundays culminating on Easter, March 31.
Leave it to Mark Burnett to pull off this huge miracle in the broadcasting world, but the mega-producer is no stranger to success. “We have many series currently on TV, but this is the most important,” says Burnett, one of the most productive producers in television history. His current shows include Survivor, The Voice, Celebrity Apprentice, and Shark Tank. All are top-rated shows but Burnett says, “Over the next decade, more people will view our Bible series than all of our other TV series combined.” That is a source of pride for the man who was named one of Time magazine’s “World’s Most Influential People,” and TV Guide’s “Most Valuable Player.” His series have been nominated for 67 Emmys, and he has personally won four, along with four People’s Choice Awards.
The Bible production was a labor of love for Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey. “Our prayer has always been that the dramatization of these stories will drive viewers to go to the Bible itself and drink in the actual text, because it is a book that changes lives,” says Downey, who co-executive produced the History series with her husband, and also plays the role of Jesus’ mother Mary. Of course everyone remembers the Irish-born Downey from her role as the tender-hearted angel on the long-running show Touched by an Angel on CBS.
“We could not be more thrilled with this out-of-the-gate success of The Bible on History,” Downey reports. “The world is watching right now and we are incredibly humbled by the reaction to the series. We’ve been working on this project for the past four years now, and are deeply honored to breathe new visual life into the Bible’s profound stories.”
Burnett says he was inspired by his family, trying to create a production his teenagers would watch. “If they wouldn’t like it, then it wouldn’t be worth doing,” he reports. So he set out to combine one of the greatest collections of stories ever assembled with the live action and state-of-the-art CGI. It is narrated by the award-winning Keith David, and features a musical score by composer Hans Zimmer. There’s a great international cast too. In addition to Downey, Portuguese TV star Diogo Morgado plays Jesus.
Burnett explains it’s more than the greatest story ever told, “It is the greatest adventure.” From Genesis to Revelation, the History Channel series is re-telling the stories revealing new insights to the iconic characters in the context of the Bible: from Noah’s Ark, and the Exodus, to Daniel in the Lion’s Den, to the life of Jesus.
Some time ago when Burnett and I got together to discuss the broadcast business, he told me, “Every show should be an event, and you have to learn to do it in different ways. I’m focused on new and different distribution systems for my future projects, and making them special. There isn’t much difference between my story-telling and a major feature film. Even with my reality shows, I try to make every episode like we’re making a hundred million dollar film.” That same effort can be found in the quality of his Bible series.
The epic ten-hour, five-part Bible docudrama airs Sunday nights at 8 p.m. on History.