Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Hollywood notes success of History Channel miniseries. From The Hollywood Reporter: Will the success of The Bible foretell a slew of religious-themed movies and TV projects? Already in the works is Jesus of Nazareth, a six-hour, $20 million miniseries from production outfit MPCA.
Note: The project isn’t, from a production standpoint, related to the classic, and also highly-rated, 1977 miniseries that was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and aired on NBC (which certainly could use those ratings today). However, Michael Landon Jr. and Brian Bird (producers of the new epic) both admit to being inspired by the work which Bird calls (with good reason) “a great piece of filmmaking?”

The HR piece, BTW, notes that the new Jesus miniseries is but one of many faith-themed projects rising in the wake History Channel’s big success with The Bible.

And why not? Any way you look at the numbers, The Bible (produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey) is the kind of hit networks dream of having. Its premiere The Bible’s March 3 premiere was cable’s most-watched program of the year, drawing 13.1 million viewers. Subsequent episodes also pulled in north of 10 million.

Beyond that, the series is currently ranked number two on Amazon’s list of the top 100 top-selling movies and TV shows.

The Bible: A Story of God and All of Us, the novelization of the miniseries has climbed to number 10 on the Publisher’s Weekly Hardcover Fiction List and is number 20 on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction List published for March 31st. Though believers could quibble with the idea of stories from The Bible being included on fiction lists, the rankings, nonetheless, demonstrate strong popular appeal.

Meanwhile, every Sunday during the series, the YouVersion Bible App has been in the top 25 out of over 800,000 apps on iTunes. “Since the premiere of the series, we’ve seen the Bible App installed over a million times each week as people become more interested in the Bible” reports Pastor Bobby Gruenewald, the app’s creator, at  “We’re thrilled to partner with The Bible series and provide free access to God’s Word for everyone who is watching, whether they are familiar with the Bible or experiencing it for the very first time.”

The success of the miniseries on The History Channel has also fueled overseas demand. C. Scot Cru of One Three Media, the company distributing the program, says “International broadcasters around the world that want this kind of market dominance are quickly acquiring the series.”

Since its premiere, the series has continued to outperform all other television shows on Sunday nights. Its first three installments alone have been seen by nearly 80 million viewers via 19 telecasts on History and Lifetime.

At the same time, faith-based programming continues to demonstrate its power all across the dial. GMC TV, for example, scored some strong numbers this past weekend. On Saturday the forgiveness-themed Between Sisters was the highest-rated edition of the network’s GMC Playhouse franchise yet, watched by more than 1.2 million viewers. On Palm Sunday, the retelecast of the 1999 Jesus miniseries starring Jeremy Sisto pulled in more than 3.3 million viewers.

The network, which has also scored well recently with its slate of MOWs, has high hopes for more such success with the premiere of The Carpenter’s Miracle this Saturday at 7:00 PM (ET), followed by encore airings at 9:00 PM and 11:oo PM (ET).  The film will rerun at the same times on Easter Sunday night, following a Roma Downey-hosted Touched by an Angel marathon.

Here’s the plot of The Carpenter’s Miracle as described in a GMC TV press release:

Based on Judd Parkin’s screen adaptation of his own novel and directed by K. T. Donaldson, The Carpenter’s Miracle tells the tale of a humble small-town handyman, Josh Carey (Mathison), who finds himself at the center of media attention after attempting to resuscitate 12-year-old Luke Quinn (Grantham), the victim of a drowning accident. When the boy shows no signs of life for an hour, Josh consoles Luke’s mother, Sarah (Harrison), in the emergency room. But when he lightly touches the boy with his hand while offering a heavenward wish, the boy is suddenly revived.

Many in the town consider it a miraculous act. But Josh is not religious and doesn’t believe he had anything to do with Luke’s recovery, even after he seems to heal several others in the following days. When local coverage of the story catches the eye of national tabloid news producer Jack Reardon (Holmes), he dispatches his most aggressive reporter, Delia Tynan (Redmond) to try to land an exclusive interview with Josh, Sarah and Luke. Although they politely decline her cash offers, Delia is relentless—to the point of potentially disrupting a blossoming relationship between Josh and Sarah. But when Josh learns his elderly mother needs expensive emergency surgery, he must make a decision that could change his life and the lives of those he cares about most.

I recently spoke about the film with GMC TV Vice Chairman Brad Siegel. You can read that interview here.

Meanwhile, let’s not forget the ratings success GSN has been having with The American Bible Challenge hosted by Jeff Foxworthy airing every Thursday night at 9:00 PM (ET). The lighthearted game, which features believers competing on behalf worthy causes, launched its second season last Thursday with three nuns of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist winning the opening contest via impressive biblical knowledge of utensil-flipping ability. We’ll see them again when this season’s semifinals get underway.

Here’s Sr. Maria Suso talking with blogger Brandon Vogt about her experience on the show.

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Happy Easter and Passover everyone!

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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