The most recent example is The Bible, an ambitious mini-series produced by reality-TV mogul Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice) and his wife Roma Downey, former star of Touched by an Angel.
It’s already a record-setting TV series and a record-setting DVD release. Now The Bible is headed for theatres… or some similar public venue. Deadline reports that producer Mark Burnett made the announcement tonight while promoting one of his “reality TV” shows.
The series, which condensed the entire Bible down to about seven hours (or ten, once you add commercials), has reportedly been re-cut into a three-hour movie. Burnett has not yet decided whether to distribute the movie himself or to accept one of the “many offers” he has received from potential distributors, but he’s currently looking at releasing it in the fall — possibly in theatres, but also possibly in arenas.
The producers of The Bible had to squish thousands of years of sacred literature down to ten hours (though it was more like seven, once you bracket off the commercial breaks). Now I have managed to squish the 15,000 words or so that I wrote about the series here at this blog down to about 2,000 words for a web-exclusive article at Books & Culture, which went online today. I cover a lot of the same points that I made in my blog posts, but I also make note of a few things that I didn’t talk about here. Check it out.
It’s common these days for each new episode of a TV series to begin with a montage that sums up all the relevant plot points from previous episodes. So it was only natural that, when the History Channel aired its five-part mini-series The Bible over the month of March, all but one of the episodes began with narrator Keith David intoning, in his deep baritone voice, “Previously, on The Bible…”
All of the show’s strengths and weaknesses are captured in that one phrase. Produced by Mark Burnett (a TV mogul best known for unscripted “reality” shows like Survivor and The Apprentice) and his wife Roma Downey (who once starred in Touched by an Angel), the mini-series rushes through the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, in ten hours — though it’s more like seven, once you bracket off the commercial breaks — and it zips through the stories so quickly that you barely notice when they are compressed even further in those opening sequences. But the mini-series also makes a point of emphasizing the continuity between Bible stories in a way that is quite rare among Bible films, and in a way that sometimes allows individual stories to shed light profitably on others.
The Bible was a big hit on cable TV. Now it’s a big hit on video, too, as various sites are reporting that it became the top-selling mini-series ever on DVD and Blu-Ray last week, as well as the top-selling TV release of any sort on DVD in five years. And that’s not counting the various online distribution methods.
Ordinarily, success of this sort would guarantee one thing: that other studios and networks would try to replicate the mini-series’ success by producing biblical TV shows and movies of their own. So I’d like to make a plea to any studio or production chiefs who might happen to come across this post.