The Bible on the History Channel is a smash hit, even though most critics hate it. The mini-series reportedly takes a reverent stance towards its source material. I have not seen it. Have you? How is it? (After the jump, a critic of the Hollywood scene discusses the show.)From Daniel Wattenberg:
Sure, it’s easy to criticize Hollywood, but try to remember that the entertainment industry today is an intellectually demanding environment, fraught with cognitively challenging, even intractable, questions, like, to take one recent example: How can the cable mini-series “The Bible” be such a ratings hit when there is no audience for overtly religious entertainment programming?
According to the latest Nielsens, released Tuesday, Sunday night’s telecast of “The Bible,” produced by husband-and-wife team Mark Burnett and Roma Downey for basic cable’s History channel, managed to attract more viewers than anything on broadcast network NBC … during the entire week.
The second installment of this five-part mini-series airing at 8-10 p.m. Sundays through Easter — the first foray into scripted drama for “Survivor” creator Burnett — drew 10.8 million viewers, good for number one in its timeslot and number 11 overall for the week.
Even bigger was part one the week before, which amassed an audience of 13.1 million viewers, cable’s largest of the year. That series premiere topped the ratings for both of the week’s episodes of “American Idol.” (Not the first time the Almighty has bested idols in head-to-head competition in this ancient rivalry — but, still, an impressive feat, even if Fox’s longtime ratings juggernaut is showing signs of slippage.)
Blockbuster ratings for a compilation of bible stories from a reality TV producer taking his first crack at drama? Can’t be. If there was a market for biblical epics, then Hollywood wouldn’t have long ago abandoned the genre, a staple of the feature film industry back in the days of Cinerama. Or was it Cinemascope? Don’t ask me. I wasn’t even alive. Or if I was, I was only just beginning to grasp the essentials of widescreen projection techniques, which was offered as an elective at the nursery school where I was then enrolled.
Makes no sense. It’s not as if “The Bible” got any help from TV critics. Its Metacritic scores averaged just 44, the low end of the “mixed reviews” range as measured by the review aggregation site.
As a cable series, “The Bible” lacked the ready-made, large scale promotional platform and popular lead-in that can drive strong ratings for a new show on a major broadcast network, of the kind NBC was, for many years.
And we all know better than to credit the mini-series’ success to its unembarrassed reverence for its sacred source material. . . .
As for “The Bible’s” cast — aside from Miss Downey (Mother Mary), arguably still semi-famous from her long run on the CBS hit “Touched By an Angel,” it’s devoid of name actors. Unless you count series star Diogo Morcaldo (Jesus Christ). Mr. Morcaldo is indeed a household name, all up and down the western littoral of the Iberian Peninsula, in fact, in his native Portugal.
No critical love. No marketing oomph. No-name cast. Together equal — what else? — ratings smash!
To be fair, that the series is faithful to the Bible is not why critics don’t like it. They say it’s bad TV. Good material can be presented badly. Is it that people are so starved for positive television that they are watching this? Or are the Bible stories so compelling that they work despite problems with the presentation? Or is the production not so bad after all?