Reality producer Mark Burnett recently shared his thoughts on bringing The Bible to life on History in a new ten-hour docudrama premiering Sunday, March 3.
Although Mark Burnett has been the creative force behind such reality hits as Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice, Shark Tank, and many more, Burnett spent the past four years adapting the Bible for television with wife and actress Roma Downey, who plays Mother Mary in the miniseries.
From Genesis to Revelation, the timeless stories of the Bible unfold on History through live action and dazzling CGI imagery, offering new insight into famous scenes and iconic characters. Narrated by Keith David and featuring a musical score by Hans Zimmer, the 10-hour telling of The Bible explores the sacred text’s most significant episodes, including Noah’s journey in the ark, the Exodus, and the life of Jesus.
Ahead of the March 3 premiere of The Bible on History, The Deadbolt spent a few minutes with Mark Burnett to learn more about the impact of the many biblical stories on his life, how it relates to his career, and the reaction of the faith community to the new miniseries.
THE DEADBOLT: Although you’ve had a lot of success in your career, do you feel in some ways that this project was what you were meant to do with that success?
MARK BURNETT: Yes, I do. I believe in God. I believe in the Bible. Therefore, if I’m hearing a voice inside of me, I know it’s God. Some people who don’t believe that would call it instincts, I guess. But the one thing that many people forget to do is follow that voice inside them, for people who believe in God or people who believe in instinct. We knew this is what we should do and we’ve done it.
As I looked back, I sort of realized that had it not been for Survivor or The Apprentice, Shark Tank and The Voice, we wouldn’t have had the experience or the ability to get this made. I’m certain about that. I actually think – I’m pretty certain – that over the next thirty years more people will see this mini-series in various forms than everything else we’ve ever made combined.
THE DEADBOLT: Since you were instrumental in pioneering the reality genre, did you ever find yourself at odds with your career and the popularity of reality TV, as compared to a certain biblical ignorance?
BURNETT: No, not really. I mean, obviously I’ve only made things I like. When you’re approaching the Bible, we believe in the Bible deeply. However, we’re also commercial filmmakers and know that you need to make an audience feel and be in the story. All of that experience, it’s all I’ve ever done.
If you look at The Voice, The Voice works because of the storytelling, as does Shark Tank and the newer shows of mine. I don’t even know what the term “reality TV” even means. I didn’t come up with that. Some journalist called it that, which is kind of a silly word when you think about it. What does that mean, reality TV? Is it reality, this conversation right now?
If you look at every show, whether it’s Extreme Home Makeover – sure they’re doing a house but it’s part of a format of a show. Survivor, people aren’t actually marooned on an island. We place them on an island in that situation. The drama is real, and the show is beloved, but it’s not reality. I guess actually being marooned on an island would be reality, right?
THE DEADBOLT: Can you talk about the reaction from some of the faith leaders when you shared the vision of the project? What was their perspective?
BURNETT: Their perspective was like, “thank you.” We’ve been working with them now for a couple of years and have really, really formed strong relationships with the faith community. One thing we wanted from the beginning was to make it very broad. This was made as much for evangelicals as Catholics, as Methodists, Presbyterians – and of course for the Jewish people, it’s God’s chosen people – across all faiths.
Someone said earlier that it’s going to be very hard to do because there are a lot of differences in opinions. But we have succeeded in that. If you look at the endorsement list, including Cardinal Wuerl, who is in Rome right now, he’s the Cardinal from Washington, D.C.. He reviewed all ten hours and wrote an endorsement for us. So we really have gone across all denominations.
I think there are a couple of things which have really been important to the faith community. It’s been getting it right, which they helped us to get it right. It’s encouraging people to open or reopen bibles and know these stories. Also, from a literature point of view, it’s kind of really, really sad that because of the Bible not being told even as literature in public schools, many, many young Americans don’t know the basic stories. In a global economy, it’s kind of a disadvantage. It’s the same as not knowing who Romeo and Juliet were, or King Lear.
So there are a number of benefits that have come out of this. But certainly the faith community has been so helpful and so welcoming and so involved. I think that’s the one thing that we were so grateful for from the very beginning was that people were involved from the very beginning.
The Bible premieres Sunday, March 3 at 8 p.m. on History.