By Dwayne Hastings
NASHVILLE (BP) — The Hollywood mogul best known for producing reality television programs is behind a new production of the ultimate “reality” story — the Bible.
Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, who played the angel Monica on the hit CBS show “Touched by an Angel,” are executive producers of “The Bible,” a 10-part miniseries that will air Sunday, March 3, on the History Channel.
Burnett, a four time Emmy Award winner, is responsible for the popular network programs “Survivor” (CBS), “The Voice” (NBC), “Shark Tank (ABC),” and the upcoming “The Job” on CBS.
“We know we couldn’t tell the whole Bible in 10 hours — we wish we could have had 1,000 hours — but we have done our best to make these stories come to life with fresh visual imagery on the screen in ways that will deeply and emotionally connect with an audience,” Downey said in an interview with For Faith & Family.
The series has been nearly four years in the making, she noted. It will air in two-hour segments over five Sundays and conclude on Easter, March 31.
The miniseries has more value than anything he has produced previously, Burnett told For Faith & Family host Richard Land.
“This is unlike anything we have ever worked on,” Burnett said. “This is not a TV show to us; this is the Bible.
“Growing up with a Presbyterian Scottish mom and a Catholic Scottish father, I never remember not having a Bible in my house growing up but it always felt like a rule book,” he said. “Over the past four years I have realized it is a love story, God’s love for us.”
He said in the first episode of the miniseries, Noah uses the oral story of creation to keep his family calm on the ark during the global flood.
It is a picture of “how God didn’t give up on us,” Burnett explained. “It is a love story from Genesis through to Revelation.”
“We believe in the Bible; we are Christians. We wanted to make sure that this would be enjoyed by young kids to older people,” he said.
Said Downey, “The intention of making this series was to glorify God. It has been such a privilege to work on it with my husband. It has deepened our love and our friendship. It has deepened our faith.”
Prayer, she said, played a pivotal role in the production of the series, down to an e-mailed prayer request she sent out just weeks before filming was to begin entitled “Looking for Jesus.”
The production crew had not yet identified an actor to play Jesus. God answered their prayers, Downey said, when just six weeks before production began Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado was cast in the role.
“Diogo really got out of the way and something wonderful happened on the screen,” Downey said, expressing confidence the actor’s portrayal of Christ will touch people’s lives.
There will be people who will watch this miniseries and who will be changed by the experience, said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “They will never read Scripture the same again,” he said.
The power of the visual, Land said, is demonstrated by the fact that whenever he reads the scriptural account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal the images that come to mind are those from flannel graph panels upon which the story was taught to him during backyard Bible clubs when he was a child.
Burnett said they realized the technical effects used in blockbuster films have set expectations high among audiences, therefore the pair wanted to make sure special effects were epic in “The Bible” miniseries but also they wanted to ensure there was “poignancy in the connective emotional love in the characters.”
“I think the faithful will find it, but I think there is opportunity for people who have never read the Bible or been to church but who will turn their televisions on and discover this program,” Downey said.
“Our hope is that it goes out into the world and that lives will be touched by this love story, the beautiful redemptive power of God’s love for us,” she added.
In a press release Burnett and Downey said with a limited amount of airtime they were faced with the choice of either featuring dozens of short summaries of Bible stories or “choose fewer characters and stories but make a much deeper emotional connection.” They indicated they chose the latter route.
The show was shot on location in Ouarzazate, Morocc, for six months in 2012. Fox Home Video will release the DVD and Blu-ray edition of “The Bible” in April.
For more information, visit www.bibleseries.tv.
Dwayne Hastings is a vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).