Teenagers are a discerning group who can be brutally honest, able to decide what’s cool or lame in an instant. Mark Burnett turned to his own trio of teens when he and wife Roma Downey decided to turn key stories from the Bible into a miniseries.
“The last thing they said to us was, ‘Please, don’t make the special effects lame,’” the super-producer recalls with a laugh.
Burnett, known for reinventing television with such series as Survivor, The Voice, The Restaurant, Shark Tank and The Apprentice, has done the same with the stories of the most popular book in the world.
Debuting Sunday night on History, The Bible is a sprawling 10-hour opus that follows key tales from the Old and New Testaments. Cutting-edge CGI and special effects give the project a feature film quality that Easter TV staple The Ten Commandments just can’t match.
“I remember growing up and watching The Ten Commandments every year,” Burnett remembers. “My wife and I showed our teenagers The Ten Commandments. Roma was all excited, and the three teenagers were rolling their eyes. We suddenly realized that The Ten Commandments is great, but it’s five decades old.”
The effects may be modern, but The Bible‘s source material stays intact. Sunday’s bow begins “In the beginning,” with Noah on his ark of the world’s two animals apiece, riding out God’s flood while recounting Creation and the sins of Adam and Eve to his family. The storyline moves to Abraham, the fall of Sodom and the Israelites. Future episodes — earmarked at five episodes of Old Testament and five episodes of New — include the Exodus, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and the birth, teachings, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Downey, who starred for nine series on Touched by an Angel, plays Jesus’ mother, Mary, in two episodes.
In addition to hiring an international cast to play the key characters in the project, Downey and Burnett called upon a legion of advisors to help, including Canadians Craig A. Evans, a professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College at Acadia University, and Geoff Tunnicliffe, who is the chief executive officer and secretary general of the World Evangelical Church.
“It was very important to build this group, because we were concerned about not going across denominations, and we have achieved that bridge,” Burnett says. “It’s been really great to make this, and have everyone from Catholics to Christians across all denominations, find some commonality. In the end, there is more that unites the denominations than divides them.”
What did Burnett’s kids — his harshest critics — think of the finished product?
“Two of them took a portion of The Bible in to screen in their high school auditorium,” Burnett chuckles. “Roma and I were more nervous about the reaction of their high school friends than of critics. It was such a relief to get a text later in the day saying, ‘Everybody loved it!’”
The Bible debuts Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on History.