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Big book on the small screen

The Mark Burnett-produced series, The Bible, aired on Channel 9 in July to 1.2 million viewers and was the number one show in the timeslot, beating Winners and Losers and Master Chef. It also trended well across social media in the lead up to its broadcast. Some would say airing it after the Country Women’s Association-friendly The Great Australian Bake Off is savvy marketing, but perhaps it’s the pedigree that encouraged viewers to tune in.

Mark Burnett’s stock-in-trade over the last decade is to craft reality television into hugely successful drama. His pioneering Survivor program, now in its 27th season, is a ratings juggernaut in the United States. Since launching that program, most of the popular reality television formats have been devised by Burnett, the most recent being the hit program, The Voice.

Burnett is nothing if not in touch with what people are watching, and with his wife Roma Downey (best known for the lead role in ten seasons of Touched by an Angel) they firmly believe people want to see The Bible and are willing to spend a whopping ten hours to watch it.

From its engaging opening, with Noah retelling the creation story during a storm in the great flood, the first episode was both gripping and rendered like an action movie in parts. Perhaps the less said about the samurai sword-wielding angels in Sodom and Gomorrah the better, but Genesis and Exodus were mostly well represented. Some heavy summarisation saw history jump decades at a time until, at the end of episode one, we stood with Joshua at the impending battle of Jericho.

If viewers are hoping for a comprehensive treatment of the Bible over ten hours, they will be disappointed. Early on it was decided to cherry-pick which stories would be included and future episodes will cover some of the better-known stories in more detail.

In the United States, the series had a 100 million-strong audience and its purpose, said Ms Downey, was to “give permission to talk about their faith around the water cooler”.

Bringing the Bible to the small screen has been done before, but Downey and Burnett felt they could bring something new to this iteration.

“We felt it was very important to tell the story in a way that brought deep emotional connection with people. The characters in the Bible are us, in many ways,” Ms Downey told Christianity Today.

Both Downey and Burnett are Christians and claimed there was a lot of soul searching and praying before committing to write and produce The Bible for television. The most significant point about the series, for Burnett, is its timing.

“Our greatest hope is that this series will affect a new generation of viewers and draw them back to the Bible,” Mr Burnett has said of the series.

Adrian Drayton

Uniting Resources NSW/ACT Synod

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