Executive producer Mark Burnett of “Survivor,” ”The Voice” and “The Celebrity Apprentice” will deliver the biggest project of his TV career next year: “The Bible,” a 10-hour miniseries.
His producing partner is his wife, “Touched by an Angel” star Roma Downey, who plays Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The couple unveiled clips of the made-in-Morocco epic Monday at the International Christian Retail Show in Orlando.
“We don’t go out there waving a flag about our faith and belief,” Burnett said. “We decided to do this, and if we’re going to do it, to do it seriously.”
The plan is for the miniseries to premiere early next year on the History Channel. Clips from the recently completed shoot received a standing ovation at the retail show. The scenes focused on Abraham, Moses, Jesus and key moments in the Bible.
In introducing the clips, Downey told the crowd her whole body was shaking. She said they were just back from five months in Morocco.
“It’s a passion project for Mark and myself,” she said. “We managed to get through this job without killing each other.”
Burnett said the project made their faith stronger. “We’ve worked three years on this,” Burnett said. “We love it. We believe in it. There’s a responsibility to the world to bring fresh visual life into this, as you can see in the way we told the political story here of the pressure on Pilate, the pressure on Caiaphas.”
Other scenes were action-packed, and Burnett said he hopes to reach viewers who aren’t familiar with the Bible.
“It’s the most important sacred text,” Burnett said. “Without this Shakespeare wouldn’t have existed, let alone ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Game of Thrones.’ ”
The clips had a gritty realism unlike many biblical epics, and Hans Zimmer (“The Dark Knight Rises”) supplies the musical score.
“A lot of things in the past were donkeys and sandals,” Burnett said. “This is like a feature film. It looks like a $100 million feature film.”
He declined to discuss the budget but said it’s “substantial” although “certainly not $100 million.” The production had three directors and a crew of 200.
Downey is the best-known name in the cast. “‘Touched by an Angel’ still airs every day all over the world,” Burnett said. “Roma gets offers every week. Turns everything down. This is the first role Roma has really stepped up and played.”
She said the casting of Jesus was most important. “We had some actors lined up, but we felt we hadn’t found the perfect actor,” she said. “We put it out in prayer circles to all of our friends and community.”
Shortly thereafter, they met a Portuguese actor — Diogo Morgado —his work was excellent and immediately realized he was perfect casting when they saw him walking toward their house.
Burnett said they consulted experts on every point in the script. “We’re just going down the middle and telling the stories,” he said.
“We had a lot of offers for this. We chose the History channel carefully,” Burnett said. “This is a big thing. This could actually be bigger than Hatfields & McCoys,” which was a ratings sensation for History. “There’s a bigger audience for this,” he added.
He noted that 70 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians but the production also should appeal to Jews, Muslims and anyone who wants to learn about the Bible.
The DVD version, which will contain hours of material not shown on History, could reach an audience worldwide.
“This will go out into corners of the world that we have never heard of, and touch hearts and bring hope"
Downey said. “It’s been just a very humbling, exciting and enormous privilege for us.” she added other books inform you but the Bible can transform you .