Vol. 10, No. 6 firstname.lastname@example.org www.thespiritualherald.org June 2011 © 2011 Eastern Tsalagi Publishing Co.
Music and Entertainment
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Is the Bible Destined for Reality Television?
By Tom Toolen
HOLLYWOOD--Some television critics wonder if the series will be called “Surviving the Bible” and others ponder what of the great book’s episodes will be soap opera-ish.
The announcement that Mark Burnett, creator of TV’s runaway reality hit, “Survivor,” is going to take on the Bible in 10 one-hour installments for the History Channel has raised eyebrows--is creating fodder not only for television critics, but for late-night comedians and even religious observers.
Burnett, who is producer of “The Apprentice” and “The Voice,” is moving into a new arena of attempting to illustrate the Bible.
He will not be doing a documentary, but rather using a script and actors to play the holy and legendary characters in what is unarguably the greatest book in the Western canon.
Clerics, biblical scholars and just plain religious people can’t help wondering if the series can be trusted to do justice to such majestic characters as Moses, David and Jesus.
“I can’t say I am at all religious,” said comedian Jon Stewart on his late night television show, “but I think it is a lot easier to dismiss Meatloaf or Omarosa than it would be to take a shot at biblical characters like Moses or Jesus who are the foundation of our civilization. But I believe Mark already knows that too well.”
And Nancy Dubuc, the president of the History Channel, said she is confident Burnett will do justice to the Bible, which she called “the most debated and discussed book in the history of mankind.”
Dubuc had worked with Burnett before and called him, “a powerful visual storyteller. This is a producer you can put any editorial or visual challenge in front of him and he rises to it.”
So the question will be how will the series deal with the more tawdry aspects of some of the stories in the Bible, such as David’s affair with Bathsheba, and his sending off her husband, Uriah, to his certain death.
King Solomon reportedly loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh, even though the Bible says the Lord said to the children of Israel: “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you.”
The king got around that edict by saying that he did not intermarry hundreds of women, but merely “loved them.” Later, Solomon began marrying the women, and the Old Testament said he had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines
The Bible also said the Lord grew angry at this and other infractions so he told Solomon that his empire “would be torn away from you,” and it was.
There is, of course, many bloody episodes in the Bible, such as Cain killing Abel, but it has not been announced if any of the more dramatic and sexy episodes will be included in the series.
Dubuc admits the Bible is a new challenge for a man who is better known for reality television shows which feature wannabe people looking for fame.
“This is a new area for Mark, but I am sure he can do it, and do it well,” she said. “We at History are excited about the challenge.”
Burnett has called the project “the most important project I have ever undertaken.” The project is expected to be on a similar scale to its most ambitious work, “America: The Story of Us,” which was a 12-part series, covering the 400-year history of America and broadcast last year.
Dubuc added her thoughts about the project. “What the book has come to represent, and the power of it and the importance of it is itself history.”
The series will have five two-hour parts, Burnett said, and each will probably contain two or three biblical stories. He and his team are selecting the stories for the series, he said, which will be in production through next year and shown in 2013.
“Some of the stories are obvious,” Burnett said, mentioning events like Noah’s Ark, Exodus and accounts of the birth and death of Jesus.
But the project will also cover stories that Burnett said he was unfamiliar with. The producer conceived the project with his wife, the actress Roma Downey (“Touched by an Angel”).
He said he had been inspired by rewatching, for the first time since childhood, the classic Cecil B. DeMille version of “The Ten Commandments.”
Burnett called that sort of epic production, backed by location shoots and special effects, “used to be the purview of major motion pictures, but now that kind of quality is within the parameters of television.”
Burnett and Downey saw an opportunity to make a different mark.
“Once in a generation someone gets to breathe new visual life into that book,” Burnett said.
Neither Burnett nor Ms. Dubuc would disclose the budget, though Mr. Burnett said it was not his most expensive series. He cited History Channel’s experience with “The Story of Us” and its coming project on Gettysburg.
The channel’s most recent experience with a scripted drama based on fact was “The Kennedys,” which it dropped in January, saying the mini-series did not live up to its standards of accuracy.
The Bible has its own layers of interpretation, of course, but Dubuc said the series would not try to impose any kind of historical context to events like the Flood. “It is just the magnitude of the book itself,” she said. “We’re not stepping back to examine anything that could be called a controversy. We are just telling the stories that are in it.”
She said researchers are already at work and theologians will be consulted. Many clerics and biblical scholars hope so to assure accuracy.
With four reality series on network schedules next season, Burnett has an impressive track record in the reality genre. Though, as with most producers, he has had his share of misses. His previous effort for History, “Expedition Africa” (2009), which traced the journey of Henry Morton Stanley’s search for Dr. David Livingstone, was not a ratings hit.
Burnett also produced “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” for TLC, which was canceled after one season.
It will be different for the Bible, he predicted.
“I think this will have the biggest audience History Channel has ever had,” Burnett declared.