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Faith, Media & Culture

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

TV series tackles the history of the Early Church. A.D. The Bible Continues premieres this Easter Sunday at 9:00 PM (ET) on NBC. The series is the latest from LightWorkers Media, the production shingle of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the married producers of History Channel’s breakout-hit miniseries The Bible and its successful theatrical spinoff Son of God.  Burnett, of course, is also known in the TV industry as the king of competition shows with hits that include Survivor, The Voice, Celebrity Apprentice and (my personal favorite) Shark Tank. TV viewers recognize Downey from her role as Monica in the long-running CBS series Touched by an Angel.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with the couple at an NBC promotional event in New York City.

JWK: What separates this series from the ground you already covered in The Bible miniseries?

ROMA DOWNEY: Well, listen, it’s an amazing series that takes a deeper dive into the New Testament. It tells the story from the Book of Acts. Chapters one through ten are explored in this first season. The opening episode will emotionally reset the story at the crucifixion of Jesus.  But we know it doesn’t end at the Cross, it’s just the beginning.  We go through the Resurrection and then the journey of the disciples and the birth of the Early Church.

JWK: In doing your research for the project, was there anything that surprised you about the history of the Early Church?

MARK BURNETT: Some things surprised (such as) the lack of knowledge, probably globally, about the Book of Acts. The Holy Spirit is the most mentioned subject in the Book of Acts. So, when you think about it, it’s a real supernatural story. We know that instinctively but when you get through it and you really focus on Acts, you realize that it was the Holy Spirit that made it work. Otherwise, the Romans would have probably gone out and killed them all right away following the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Instead, twelve Apostles took down Rome. 

RD: For me, I guess when we consider the system of roads that the Romans built and the ports that they built in order to invade and conquer that area. (They) were the very roads and ports that were used to carry the Gospel and to spread the faith. I’ve never really considered that before making this series. I thought that was just interesting to observe.

JWK: Considering the current headlines about Christians being persecuted and murdered for their faith in the Middle East and elsewhere, do you think the story of the Early Church is particularly times and important to be told now?

RD: Oh, yes. I think here we have these early disciples being persecuted for their faith and danger lurking around every corner. It’s with horror that we see what is happening overseas — the persecution that’s happening to Christians and to people of all faiths. That that can continue in this day and age is an outrage. You know, we should be making much more noise about that in this country.

JWK: You two are, I think, the busiest producers of faith-themed movies television. Besides A.D., this week you also have The Dovekeepers miniseries airing on CBS. You’re executive producers of the theatrical film Little Boy due out in April, down the road, a new big screen version of Ben-Hur. How do you keep all the balls in the air?

MB: (We also) have Survivor, (The Voice) and Shark Tank.

JWK: And, I understand, a pilot for another potential NBC drama series in the fall.

ROMA DOWNEY: We do. Angels Unveilled…is going to be amazing. And we have a new series for TLC called Answered Prayers (which) will be coming out this summer. So, we’re pretty busy. 

JWK: So, how do you keep it all in balance?

RD: We have each other and good teams of people. We have a lot of enthusiasm and we have terrific passion for what we do. And, you know, we have great people working with us.

MB: And I’m married to an angel!

Note: Tomorrow I’ll post Q&As with A.D. cast members, including Juan Pablo Di Pace (Jesus), Adam Levy (Peter) and Emmett J. Scanlan (Saul). I’ll have a review of the first episode up on Saturday.

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

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