The figures have now been confirmed that over 13.1 million Americans watched the debut of “The Bible” miniseries on the History Channel this past Sunday night. In the next four weeks, I believe I can safely predict that even more will watch the remaining two-hour segments before the last is shown on Easter night. Why? Because the first segment has drawn raves that no one could have predicted.
Think about that. The Bible is the No. 1 best seller of all time. Between the work of the Gideons, Wycliffe International and the International Bible Society there are now 168,000 given away every day but due to the people’s relentless thirst – and the fact we learn something new every time a Bible is read – this new mini-series is a swashbuckling success.
Mark Burnett, a profound Christian who created “The Survivor” series on television, and his wife Roma Downey (star of “Touched by an Angel”) spend six months in Morocco to put together the films and the dream, of course, is that the segments will be shown repeatedly of other channels within the A&E family.
Sunday’s debut was the second-largest on record for the History Channel. Last year’s “Hatfields & McCoys” opened with an audience of 13.9 million but, again, the Bible story is well-known and has been told for centuries. And Burnett’s opener easily shaded the Zombie series on AMC, “The Walking Dead,” as this year’s most-watched, which triggered Burnett to Tweet afterwards, “God Beats Zombies! Guess it pays to be eternal vs immortal!”
Burnett’s elation is understandable. Just before the first segment aired, he said, “We believe our Bible series has the potential to reach not only those who already go to church but could reach a whole new generation of people who have never been to church. Our greatest hope is that this series will affect a new generation of viewers and draw them back to the Bible.”
In an introductory video he also said, “We’ve told the stories of the Bible in a way to grab viewers’ attention and draw them in to want to know more. The footage is exciting, it’s compelling, poignant and powerful. Our hope is this series will reach millions of people around the world.”
Huge mail-order houses are already accepting pre-orders (Amazon: $29.95, shipped April 2) and mega-pastors Rick Warren and Joel Osteen are among those urging Christians to base Bible studies and worship around the new media.
Warren, the leader of the huge Saddleback Church in California, is has based five sermons to be delivered each week before the segments are shown on the History Channel. Last Saturday he urged other pastors around the world to do the same,. “Don’t miss this opportunity,” Warren said. “This is a wave. Part of leadership is catching the wave. God is about to do something really great.”
The messenger that God chose is Burnett. He has five No. 1 shows – like “The Apprentice” and “The Voice” – so he knows what he is doing. Further, as Nancy Dubuc, who is the president of A&E, told the New York Times, “We take very seriously when a producer or a storyteller of his magnitude is incredibly passionate about something. They tend to give it their all.”
Because of Burnett’s passion, the scenes are dramatic and often intense. The attention to detail is stunning. “Something we knew we did not want to do is make a donkey-and-sandal movie for your grandmother,” said Dubuc.
If the first segment is an indicator, Burnett’s epic is anything but sugar-coated. There are lashings, sword fights, beheadings – the very stuff that we have read in the Bible all of our lives. “It is a violent story,” Dubuc told the Times. “When you have to illustrate it, that’s pretty gnarly stuff,” she added, mindful of the fact that Biblical scholars will train a shrewd eye on the authenticity that is offered to viewers throughout March.
And it is already being said that the favorite scene of all may be the one where brave young David walks to meet Goliath, softly reciting the 23rd Psalm as he approaches the giant with his slingshot. You know the story. You’ve heard it all your life. And, if you are anything like the 13.1 million who watched last Sunday, you can hardly wait to see it.
Come now, shouldn’t such historical fact be shown in our schools? Just so you’ll know, that is Mark Burnett’s most fervent prayer.