by Grady Smith
Image Credit: Lightworkers Media/Hearst Productions
Last Sunday, the first installment of History’s five-part miniseries The Bible beat everything on television with a massive 13.1 million viewers, making it cable’s most-watched entertainment telecast this year.
For producer Mark Burnett, who worked on the ten-hour special with wife Roma Downey, the success of The Bible isn’t all that surprising. “It will be, over the next 40 or 50 years, the most watched thing that Roma and I have ever made,” he told EW, quite confidently, back in January.
At the time, Burnett gushed about shooting the series. “I really believe what I’m going to tell you right now,” he said. “The hand of God was on this…. the edit came together perfectly, the actors came together perfectly, it just comes to life.” But Burnett wasn’t just speaking about how well the practicalities of production had gone. “Weird things happened during filming,” he said. “Everybody would look at each other like, “Whoa.”
Here are a few of the “weird things” he was talking about:
A mighty desert wind
“There’s a scene with Jesus and Nicodemus, when Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. It’s a very still night, not a breath of wind, and we’re on the edge of the Sahara desert in a palm grove in an oasis… Jesus says, ‘The Holy Spirit is like the wind.’ At that moment, a wind, like as if a 747 was taking off, blew his hair, almost blew the set over and sustained for 20 seconds across the desert, and the actors didn’t break — they kept going. And everything stopped. Everyone just looked at everyone like, ‘What just happened?’”
The missing frock
“We had hundreds of craftsmen working [on making costumes], and the most important costume was Jesus’ costume. Every time, at the end of the day, the costume’s got to be taken away to be maintained. So when we were doing the baptism scenes, it’s completely immersed in water. During it, a portion of the costume came away. We shot this in a giant reservoir on the edge of the Sahara desert, so we’re never going to find this again. It’s really bad. Every time you lose something, you’ve got five months ahead, and you can’t replicate these costumes. Four days later, a kid showed up from many, many, many miles away, who had been seeking us through the desert to return this to us. He didn’t know what it was why he should seek us, but he felt he had to return it.”
Cobras at the cross
“We had a snake wrangler every day on the set. I mean, we’ve got a couple hundred people shooting, and we can’t afford to have people getting bitten by snakes. Every day, this guy would find a snake or maybe two snakes, and remove them. On the day of the crucifixion, a lot of people prayed. The cross was a huge thing. They prayed [for safety], ‘Imagine if this cross fell. The actor playing Jesus could be killed or badly injured.’ The snake man came to work that day — he’d gotten there early on the mountain playing Golgotha, and the bag of snakes [he was carrying] was the biggest bag I’d ever seen. He came to my wife and said, ‘Miss Roma, there were 48 snakes.’ He found 48 cobras and vipers hidden within the rocks around the cross.”
Whether or not you believe these were on-set miracles or just mere coincidences, one thing is certain — The Bible’s ratings are , in fact, pretty divine.
Mark Burnett's 'The Bible' begets record ratings
by James Hibberd
The miniseries’ two-hour cable network premiere was seen by 13.1 million viewers and scored a 3.3 rating among adults 18-49. That’s more viewers and a higher demo rating than any show on the major broadcast networks last night and ranks as cable’s most-watched entertainment telecast this year. If you include the show’s repeat, the viewership rises to 14.8 million for the night.
“The success of The Bible has catapulted History into one of the most powerful brands across media landscape and we could not be more thrilled and more proud,” Nancy Dubuc, president of A&E Networks. “Clearly there is a nationwide groundswell that was waiting for this moment … An enormous debt of gratitude goes out to everyone and the amazing effort put forth to drive us to this amazing win. Clearly the passion for this project has resonated with our viewers and across the nation. We are thrilled, and the story is only just beginning.”
The Bible couldn’t quite top History’s previous record-setting mini Hatfields & McCoys, however, which had a stunning 13.9 million viewers for its premiere last year. And last night’s 18-49 demo rating is almost certainly lower than AMC’s mega-hit The Walking Dead (those ratings will not be released until tomorrow), though The Bible very likely had more viewers.
The Bible is a 10-hour live-action miniseries executive produced by Survivor and Celebrity Apprentice executive producer Mark Burnett along with his wife Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel). Burnett has said he made the special effects-filled project to help tackle “Bible illiteracy” among young people. “In school, you have to know a certain amount of Shakespeare, but no Bible,” Burnett told the Christian Science Monitor. “So there’s got to be a way to look at it from a pure literature point of view. If it wasn’t for the Bible, arguably Shakespeare wouldn’t have written those stories.”
Burnett predicted that The Bible, once you include home video and international sales, will eventually be seen by more viewers “than any of our other series combined over the next three decades.” It’s off to a good start — among the broadcast shows that The Bible out-performed among total audience last night was Burnett’s own All-Star Celebrity Apprentice premiere on NBC which returned to a disappointing 5.1 million viewers.
“We could not be more thrilled with this out of the gate success,” said Downey and Burnett in a statement. “The world is watching right now and we are incredibly humbled by the reaction to the series. This No. 1 series is a tribute to all those who have helped us to spread the Word. Ultimately The Bible will be seen and felt by billions around the globe …Today, more people are discussing God’s chosen people — Moses and Abraham — in one day than ever before.”
Also last night, History’s first scripted series Vikings delivered 6.2 million viewers for the premiere and 8.2 million for the night.
The Bible‘s strong ratings performance comes despite the project garnering some poor reviews from TV critics; EW’s own Darren Franich called The Bible a “cheesefest” in this week’s issue. What do you think of History’s big Bible numbers?