Lord have mercy – History Channel is bringing the Bible back. The cable network has ordered The Bible from Survivor producer Mark Burnett.
Burnett has had a string of reality TV victories since Survivor, including The Apprentice and The Contender. He’s also well known as a producer for live award events, like The People’s Choice Awards and the MTV Movie Awards. He’s had his fair share of busts, too – Sarah Palin’s Alaska quickly bombed on TLC, and other reality originals and spinoffs have failed to find an audience.
Lately, Burnett has produced NBC’s surprise hit The Voice and ABC’s Shark Tank, recently reviewed for its third season. He continues to produce Survivor, now in its 22nd season. Yes, really.
History Channel isn’t the first to try the formidable task of cramming thousands of pages of religious text and hundreds of years of Jewish and Christian history into a single epic. Way back in 1966, 20th Century Fox distributed The Bible: In The Beginning. Part of a larger trend in religious-themed epics (including The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston), the film was intended to be the first in a series. It chronicled the Genesis stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and Abraham. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the building of the Tower of Babel were also included.
Unlike other religious and generally historical epic movies, The Bible: In The Beginning was not well-received, and none of the planned sequels were made. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, many biblical movie adaptations were made by American and Italian studios, with varying degrees of success and accuracy. Biblical epics largely fell out of favor until 2004, when The Passion of the Christ (starring Person of Interest‘s James Caviezel) made over six hundred million dollars.
Compressing The Bible into the allotted ten-hour miniseries won’t be an easy task. Like In The Beginning, the producers and writers will likely split up the narrative into major stories. Just as an educated guess at the ten part split: 1) Adam and Eve and Noah, 2) Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, 3) Moses and The Exodus, 4) the foundation of Israel, 5) Kings Saul, David and Solomon, 6) the destruction of Israel and Judah, 7) a few short stories on the major and minor prophets, 8 ) Jesus’ birth, 9) his death and resurrection, 10) an episode dedicated to the book of Revelations.
The bigger question is whether Burnett can handle a big-budget scripted series. With an almost exclusively reality TV resume, he seems like an odd choice to revive the type of storytelling that is relatively ancient for modern filmmakers. Considering his history with low-budget, spontaneous television, Burnett would seem to be the least likely candidate for the project.
History would do well to watch out for the the inevitable controversy, too: their high-profile miniseries The Kennedys met with disapproval from liberal Americans, and was denied on every major cable TV network. Reelz Channel finally aired the series in the US.
The Bible is scheduled for a 2013 debut.
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Source: Entertainment Weekly