The History Channel Begets Bible Parables
by Phil Boatwright

“Just think about all the people who don’t know the Bible,” said Roma Downey, producer of the miniseries The Bible, which will air on the History Channel beginning March 3rd.

The Bible, a 10-episode special, was the dream child of Ms. Downey (star of Touched by an Angel) and her husband, Mark Burnett (producer of Survivor). At a press interview in New York last November, I found the husband-and-wife producing team enthusiastic, nearly giddy as they neared the completion of the production.

“It’s hard to imagine, I know,” began Roma Downey in a recent phone interview, “but there are those who have never heard the accounts of Noah, or Abraham, or Moses – or, even Jesus. What we hope will happen from viewing the series is that people, Believers and those who are not yet, will gain a renewed interest in God’s Word.

Sadly, there’s a real Bible illiteracy in today’s world. There are people who simply don’t know stories we take for granted. You think everyone knows the account of Adam and Eve or Samson and Delilah or the significance of the temptation of Christ by Satan,” the actress continued, “but they don’t.”

Roma’s husband, Mark Burnett, added, “I think the production will attract millions of people, and we pray that upon viewing it, a new interest will develop for many of them. Especially in these foreboding times.”

From Roma and Mark’s Reflections book, A Story of God and All of Us: “If there is one unifying thought with which we wanted to permeate ‘The Bible,’ it is this reality that God loves every person on the face of the Earth. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.”

Knowing denominational leaders would be concerned with the direction “Hollywood” folk would take the series, I asked the Burnetts a few questions, playing, you should excuse the expression, devil’s advocate.

PB: “What version of the Bible did you choose as source material?”

MB: “We used many translations, because we wanted to be assessable to young people. But personally, I would always come back to the King James Version because that’s what I grew up with. We’re not theologians, we’re storytellers. So, we enlisted several well-known pastors and academics who study God’s Word as a vocation. Of course, as you know, you can’t please everybody. But we made a 10-hour walking tour from Genesis to Revelation, a tour we spent a great deal of time in prayer over.”

PB: “How did you decide which biblical anecdotes to use?”

MB: “We had one of two choices: either select dozens of short summaries and tell many brief stories, or, choose fewer characters and stories but make a much deeper emotional connection. We went with the second choice.”

RD: “So we began the TV scripts, written by a team of writers under the guidance of many biblical experts.”

PB: “What was the reception like when you approached the History Channel with the direction you wanted to take the vignettes?”

MB: “Very receptive. At least once a year, the History Channel tries to do one big epic project. We’ve tried to make this a full drama, not just a series of vignettes, with each story segueing naturally into the next story. They gave us a free rein.”

RD: “Just look at the professionals we were blessed to get.”

My research found that, indeed, the production was populated with award-winning experts in their chosen fields.

--Lola Post-Production House: this Academy Award winning team created CGI for “Gladiator,” “Clash of the Titans,” “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” and “Troy.”
--Richard Bedser is the screenwriter. Among his credits, Bedser wrote for the Emmy award winning series on The History Channel, “Gettysburg.”
--Academy Award winning composer Hans Zimmer (“Gladiator,” “The Dark Night,” “Inception”) scored the production.
--Diogo Morgado portrays Jesus. Born in Portugal, Morgado is a huge star in Portugal, Spain and Brazil and has starred in many successful TV series in all three countries.
--And directors Christopher Spencer, Tony Mitchell and Crispin Reece each has substantial credits and has faced the demands of epic-sized productions and deadlines.
--Mark Burnett is a four-time Emmy Award winner who has produced over 1,200 hours of
television programming which regularly airs in over 70 countries worldwide. His current
network series include "Survivor" (CBS), "The Voice" (NBC), "The Celebrity
Apprentice" (NBC), “Shark Tank” (ABC), and the upcoming "The Job" (CBS).
--And of course, Emmy-nominated actress Roma Downey, best known for her nine seasons as the tender-hearted angel on the hit CBS show “Touched by an Angel,” was classically trained in London and has performed on stage with the famed Abbey Theatre Company and both on and off Broadway. She played the leading role of Jackie Kennedy Onassis in the Emmy award winning six hour miniseries for NBC called “A Woman Named Jackie."
Ms Downey not only starred in, but executive produced seven television movies for The CBS
network, among them "Borrowed Hearts" with Eric McCormack and "Second Honeymoon" with Tim Matheson. As well as co-producing, she also plays Mary, the mother of Jesus.

PB: “How are the episodes presented?”

RD: “It will premiere March 3 and run for five weeks, each week featuring two-hour episodes, and ending on Easter Sunday.”

PB: “I understand your actor playing Jesus is a Christian, correct?”

RD: “Yes, We found him, really, through the power of prayer. It was just weeks away from the beginning of filming. We were looking for someone who could play both the lion and the lamb. It was going to take someone very special and we found that Diogo brought a beautiful combination of strength and charisma, but also gentleness and humility. And I believe his performance will be touching to everyone who sees it.”

As I mentioned, I met Roma and Mark in New York on a press junket and they showed us 45-minutes of the production. Though I can’t claim to know the quality of the entire production, I did sense a professionalism that took inspiration from these biblical tales. Probably the most difficult character for an actor to play is Jesus. Our Lord came to earth all man and all God. He knew our temptations, yet remained sinless. Try to get that in your psyche if you’re an actor. But I was moved with Diogo Morgado’s portrayal of Christ. It is my belief that this singular performance will touch hearts and spark a desire in many to gain a further understanding of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…”

Stories reenacted:
Adam and Eve
Cain and Abel
Noah and the Ark
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
The sacrifice of Isaac
Moses and the burning bush
The parting of the Red Sea
The Ten commandments
Joshua and the walls of Jericho
Samson and Delilah
Samuel anointing Samuel as King of Israel
David defeating Goliath
David as King of Israel
The prophet Jeremiah
Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians conquering Jerusalem
Daniel in the lion’s den
King Cyrus freeing the Israelites
The Angel Gabriel visits the virgin Mary
The Nativity
John the Baptist
Jesus tempted in the desert by Satan
Jesus meets Peter
The miracles and mission of Jesus
The feeding of the 5,000
Jesus confronts the money lenders
The Last Supper
Judas’ Betrayal of Jesus
The Crucifixion
The Resurrection
The blinding of Paul

Along with their producing chores, Roma and Mark have published a thoughtful devotional book that works well as a companion piece, adding dimension to the television program. I was sent a copy and have been reading it every day. I was impressed because I feel most family members will find the daily devotional applicable and strengthening to their spiritual walk. A STORY OF GOD AND ALL OF US REFLECTIONS contains 100 devotionals and inspirations based on THE BIBLE series and the producers’ meditations during that production.  It contains relevant scripture passages, experiences during production and a daily prayer. The hardcover book under the FaithWords logo costs $16.95.