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History Channel’s Bible Is a Hit. Does That Mean TV Will Get Religion?

We may see more TV for religious believers as a result of The Bible. What I'd love to see--but am not so sure we will--is more TV about religious believers.

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Joe Alblas / © Lightworkers Media / Hearst Productions Inc.

Abraham (Gary Oliver) and Sarah (Josephine Butler) in History's The Bible.

Up until now, the year’s big cable-ratings story has been the ever-growing success of zombie drama The Walking Dead on AMC. Sunday night, though, History channel had the highest-rated scripted drama on cable for the year, for the beginning of a story in which only one main character rises from the dead, and that not until nearly the end.

The first two hours of History’s Mark Burnett miniseries adaptation of The Bible scored 13.1 million viewers, more than any fiction cable show of the year–and, as the New York Times notes, dwarfing anything on NBC for the past month. (The biblical epic numbers did not quite match The Walking Dead in viewers aged 18 to 49, the demographic that determines advertising rates, but it did get a healthy 5.6 million.)

Those are the kinds of numbers that get TV executives’ attention, and “attention” in the TV business means copying. Last year, History pulled meganumbers with Hatfields and McCoys; now NBC is developing a Hatfields and McCoys series. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see more religious epics coming to TV–stories aimed, like The Bible miniseries, at the comfort zone of believers. (I haven’t watched the entire History miniseries, but the first two hours were sort of a Picture Bible come to life, with the Old Testament violence dialed up and the Old Testament sex dialed down, and the kind of stiff dialogue that avoids seeming to “disrespect” Biblical figures by making them sound like people rather than animatronic figures.)

So we may see more TV for religious believers as a result of The Bible. What I’d love to see–but am not so sure we will–is more TV about religious believers.

Religious faith (or the passionate lack thereof) plays a huge role in billions of people’s lives. Primetime TV, however, has a habit of dealing with faithful characters badly or–more often–not at all. On the one hand, you have religious characters framed as villains or hypocrites: ABC’s GCB (Good Christian Bitches), wicked-priest figures like Brother Justin on Carnivale, Caleb on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or the pope and cardinals of The Borgias. On the other, you have characters defined broadly in terms of their religion and virtue (say, the Flanders family on The Simpsons). And more widely, TV characters are simply–nothing. They’re not unreligious, necessarily, but their faith, if any, is somewhere offscreen.

What we could use is more TV that treats characters of faith like good TV shows treat any characters: as complicated people, sometimes good, sometimes bad, whose faith is part of them but doesn’t make them exemplary or terrible.

One of the best recent examples–naturally, since it’s one of the best examples of so many things–was Friday Night Lights. Faith mattered to people in Dillon, Texas: they went to church, prayed on problems, played Christian rock in their garages. It didn’t magically fix anything, nor did it make the people of Dillon better or worse than people anywhere else, but the show took it seriously, and matter-of-factly, as a major part of its characters’ worldviews.

Cable may have a little more leeway in treating religion with nuance, even if it doesn’t always. Big Love may have taken criticism from Mormons for its depiction of polygamy, but it was also a rich, multifaceted look at the many ways in which religion affected its characters’ lives, for good and ill. Yes, Juniper Creek was afflicted with false prophets, but in the show’s central family, each spouse–even Bill, even when he was behaving contemptibly–was driven at root by the desire to come closer to God and to meaning. In a very different way, Game of Thrones has dealt with how religion affects war, politics and its characters’ outlooks–though so far, the series has lost some of the detail of the source books. Enlightened is not about organized religion per se, but treats spirituality with respect without pandering to it.

On network TV, some of the more interesting recent storylines about faith have been happening at the margins of The Good Wife–one of the more “cable-like” broadcast shows to begin with. The protagonist, Alicia Florrick, is an open atheist–even more of a rarity than an avowed believer on TV–and this became an issue recently when she refused to hide her disbelief to help Peter’s gubernatorial campaign. At the same time, her teenage daughter has been drawn to Christianity, and the way the show has handled Alicia’s reaction–not preachily, but as a story about a parent working to accept her daughter’s separate identity–has been exemplary without being showy.

These are still exceptions, though. (There are a few more depictions of the faithful in reality TV, especially on cable–Sister Wives, the Duggars–though All-American Muslim showed that even for cable reality that is not without risk.) The reason TV series should have religious characters and take them seriously is the same reason they should have racial and cultural diversity: not as an act of charity, not to pander to demographics, but because it makes for better stories. People who believe things are interesting. People wrestling with the big questions are interesting. And TV shows that depict actual lived life–with characters who are specific rather than generic–are interesting.

Of course, programmers often read “interesting” as “dangerous,” especially when it comes to religion. (And for that matter, when it comes to race, as Alyssa Rosenberg has lately pointed out when critiquing the “color-blind” approach to writing.) If The Bible keeps its ratings up, I’d expect more religious spectacles in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised, either, to see more religious-flavored genre entertainments too, even though ABC failed with the Da Vinci Code-like Zero Hour. The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman, for instance, is now working on a series about exorcism.

History’s Bible, in other words, is probably going to result in more religious drama that’s larger-than-life. What TV could really use, though, is more religious drama that’s life-sized.

171 comments
esposito
esposito

Blacks are and always will be more stupid than whites! The Egyptians were mixed, and any time Blacks aren't totally stupid, it's because they have white genes!

GeorgeBeauregard
GeorgeBeauregard

IT IS A SIN THAT WHITE AMERICA WANT ALL HISTORICAL ACHIVEMENTS IN AFRICA WAS EITHER WHITE OR LIGHT SKINNED, EGYPTIANS WERE BLACK , BEFORE EUROPEIANS WERE MIXED IN AND NO BLACK AND NO BLACK INVENTIONS SHOWS, THIS CHANNEL ACTS LIKE BLACK PEOPLE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH HUMAN ACHIEVMENT.VERY RACIST. I GUESS BLACK PEOPLE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING THE WERE JUST JUNGLE FOOLS AND AMERICAN SLAVES.  

congocat
congocat

The only thing I liked about the History Channel showing this religious propaganda show is that the name of it was "Bible" so I knew not to waste my time watching it. Religious ppl force so much of their crap into schools, courts, etc that we atheists have no real choice of hearing so  I am glad to see one with an off button .....

JacobObadiah
JacobObadiah

Praise you Almighty God Jesus, the Christ for thisopportunity to speak truth to the children of men..This is going to be interesting.. Before I begin... I invite any Bible believing Christian in love to challengeanything I write. No offense will be taken.. If Jesuswere a Caucasian - I would love him the same. In fact when I was a younger man and thought he was white - I loved him then....Praise the Lord. Not only was Samson black, but FromAdam to Jesus the Bible is black withexception to the non-indigenous white Greeks and Romans. I can prove thisif you are willing to look at the scriptureswith an open mind and forget what history,tradition, folklore, theologians and the television tells us what the race of the people in the Bible were. The Bible not only substaniates that Cush ( Gen 10:6/ Strong's # 3568 ) the progenitor of Ethiopia, and the grandson of Noah by his youngest son Hamwas black, but all 8 people on the ark. There were no people on the Earth besides the 8 people who got off the ark. Noah was Cush's grand father, therefore, he had to have been black as well. Think about this for a second. Cush was black, thereforeall his brothers who had the same mother andfather ( Ham ) were black as well. Remember, besides Noah's wife, there were 3 other women on the ark who I will prove had to have been black as well.Cush other brother ( Gen 10:6 ) Mizraim was the father of the Egyptians.. Mizraimhad the same mother and father as Cush, so did Phut who became the progenitor of the Lybians. And last but not least was the fourthson, Canaan born of Ham and his mother whowas also on the Ark... Now if you accept how Iam explaining the Bible, you must accept that the Philistines (Gen 10:13-14 ) are black b/c they are descendants of the Mizraimites who I already proved are black according to the Bible..Now explain to me how Ham could be black if Noah, and his wife weren't black? People...think... Noah's son Ham was the father of theAfrican race.. Yeah, I will believe Noah was a white man the day George W. Bush could have a biological son with Laura Bush thatcould be mistaken for Flavor Flav or any ofthe Jackson 5 before plastic surgery.You can't explain how two non-black peopleon the ark can have a biological son who becamethe progenitor of the African race..... Noah and all three of his son's were black.. The white race came about by the curse of Canaan ( Lev 13:3-4, 13, 43 )....It's as simple as that.....Now that you know Noah and his three son's were black you now know that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alsoblack.. Joseph was mistaken ( Gen 42:7 ) for an Egyptian by his brothers...So what do we have here? We have the black descendants of Shem (Joseph) way beyond Abraham - being mistaken for a descendant of Ham's 2nd son ( Mizraim Egypt / Strong's # H4714 ) Mizraim.Follow me.. 2 of Noah's sons descendantsof Shem ( Joseph / Gen 42:7 ) and Ham are mistaken for the same race. And descendants of Japheth in the Apocrypha ( 1 Maccabees 12:21 ) are called brethrento the Israelites. And I am expected by"society" to think that the entire (95%) of the Bible is not black ? I can't fooledanymore with the man's "his-story"..Moses, Apostle Paul & all the sons of Israel were mistaken for ( Gen 50:11 / Exo 2:19 / Acts 21:38 ) Egyptians as well...The Bible says Jesus had wooly hair,[ Daniel 7:9 KJV ] feet in color to brass burnt in an oven [ Rev 1:13-15 ] , and compared his complexion to a birthstone [ Rev 4:3 ] which comes in many colors including one the tone of Chris Rock..Job said he was black as well as Solomon.. ( Job 30:30 / SOS 1:5-6 )God said Judah was black [ Jeremiah 14:2 KJV.. Lam 4:8 ], and that Jacob would never become white.....Isaiah 29:22..If we are willing to shut the voices of history ( Jeremiah 16:19 ), tradition,and the television out of our minds,we can see that everyone in the Bible except the Greeks and Romans were black... And even the ancient sons of Japheth were the first Europeans, so whites are not evennative to Europe...I almost forgot about the people of Sodom( Gen 10:19 ) being black, as well thePhonecians ( Gen 10:19 / Sidon …..Strongs # H6721 ) who we get most of ourEnglish alphabet from…John 8:32

wang8942
wang8942

First of all, i wanna thx for the history channel give us this chance to review the Bible, but they made a terrible mistake on episode 4. It wasn't Cyrus put Daniel with lions. It was Darius(Daniel 6)!!! This will mislead the people who watched this show!!! I don't care the people who ur guys let them play the characters in this show, but at least u should described the story correctly!

snookie
snookie

I agree with Read the bible, though the movie is powerful it has a lot of questions that need to be answers.

jenabella8
jenabella8

The History Channel story of the Bible is incorrect and misinforming people and especially CHILDREN. The story only shows a bunch of white people and no black/brown people who were actually the true race and color who ruled in this part of the world(the EAST), white skin, blue eyes would not have been the majority and still today is not. This story is insulting and hard to watch, you say that this story nis to stay true to the spirit of the Bible but you make everyone including JESUS white, when it clearly states in the BIBLE THAT JESUS HAIR WAS AS WOOL AND HIS SKIN AS BURNT WHICH INDICATES THAT HE HAD HAIR AND SKIN OF THE NEGRO, BLACK/BROWN  RACE. It just seems no matter what the truth is White people who write these movies and stories will NOT admit the truth, even if it is in the Bible. It is hard to watch and I get sooo angry that racism is alive and well even on the HISTORY CHANNEL, is very sad. I am going to post my comments to as many sites as I can and send letters to Black organizations, Farakhann etc...to stop this lie on T.V it will poison our chicldren no matter what race they are, a lie is a lie.

JamesVinson
JamesVinson

Does anyone remember KINGS! That was an amazing show! It needs to come back on Cable where real TV is made now.

DarleenYoung
DarleenYoung

glad to see religion but will see if it coinsides with bible

WilliamLongestJr
WilliamLongestJr

yes,movies are movies...BUT this is the HISTORY CHANNEL. Therefore, people will think what is being said is true. If base their faith on something that's untrue, then their faith is worthless. History channel messed up terribly. They had the opportunity & blew it.

okeydokey
okeydokey

Everyone that has commemted have complained because the sow is not right on...leaves out words or not the right set....The Bible it's sefl has many different interpurtations...do you critisize the walkeing dead?  It is telling a story, like Ben Hur...Moses...it's movie...telling a story...ET was a  movie and told a story...The Easter Bunny ...is he real or not...still people have Easter egg hunts and dinners and stuff...if you don't enjoy the Bible Movie, don't watch...

VolZX10R
VolZX10R

%s the first drama I have seen in a long time where the Heroes have British accents, and not the bad guys. %s

MrsRedding85
MrsRedding85

@jaesonma if they continue to keep running the Bible that would be AHH-mazing! I love it so far....spot on w\/ the bible! TV needs religion

texasbeast
texasbeast

This show is not "history", as in what was seen and recorded in the past. It's religious propaganda, in that it favorably presents what the Bible says, without airing contrary viewpoints or tangible evidence tending to disprove the Bible's claims. It's biased in favor of the Bible, even though it doesn't bother to get a lot of the details right, and completely eschews all semblances of objectivity and critical thinking. It's ironic that the History Channel's website has a page that reads: "About Ask HISTORY--Myths debunked, truths revealed and your most burning history questions answered." But the History Channel certainly did not take that approach with this particular program. They sold out their proper historian credentials, and instead offered up quite possibly the world's longest religious infomercial.

jessepstein
jessepstein

@bibleseries next time use proto-Hebrew on the 10 command, not modern Hebrew!!!! Easy to look up.

Bessie
Bessie

You WILL NOT ADD nor TAKE AWAY from the Bible...  

1.  In the scene with Sodom residents telling Lot to send the strangers (angels) to them so that, 'they may know them' was not included.  Why is this?  Is it because in our day in age, homosexuality has become a 'political issue' and not one where God has made it plain that it is an abomination?  And the Angel of God happens to be a 'Ninja'???  I must have missed that in the real Bible.
2.  In the next segment of the Bible series, it shows Samson as a Black Man.  Samson is a descendant from the Tribe of Dan, from Jacob (Israel), from Issac and from Abraham.  Were any of these individuals Black?  No, they were not.  Another attempt at 'political correctness'?
3.  I applaud Mark Burnett and the History Channel for telling the stories of the Bible so many can hear and learn, but the segments they cover MUST be accurate and a few of what I've seen are disturbing differences and display an agenda, but it is not what is in THE BIBLE!

billiam
billiam

It gets an A for effort. There is no great depth in any of the stories but that was not the intention of the film makers. This was simply meant to be an entertaining parade of bible stories. It succeeds on that level. The idea is to make bible stories accessible to a modern audience. Think of it as a bible sampler. The production values (for basic cable) are outstanding. Serious money was spent here. It is also apparent that the entire production from acting, directing, photography, music (by the great Hans Zimmer no less) production design are taking the material seriously. My only complaint, some of the acting is a bit over the top. Perhaps a couple of actors are trying too hard to give the subject GRAVITAS. I admit the samurai angel was a tad much. These are small complaints

nightwing01
nightwing01

Just going to point this out to the (this is not completely accurate crowd) it is a show that is trying to cover the whole of the bible in 10 hours. Calm down the trust of the story's are still accurate and conveying the same message. If I wanted 100% accuracy I can just read the bible. 

MichaelFarraj
MichaelFarraj

After my wife and me viewed the first episode, my wife and I will not be watching any further episodes.This was a poorly written script and if you have ever actually read the Bible; you would be lost in the poorly portrayed details of each story and some made up facts (such as one of the Angels to save Lot and his family was an Asian ninja).This miniseries series so far is horrible.  We will not watch any future episodes as it is poorly written and does not follow the Bible and they add additional information that is not in the Bible.  Absolutely horrible. 

MichaelFarraj
MichaelFarraj

After my wife and me viewed the first episode, my wife and I will not be watching any further episodes.This was a poorly written script and if you have ever actually read the Bible; you would be lost in the poorly portrayed details of each story and some made up facts (such as one of the Angels to save Lot and his family was an Asian ninja).This miniseries series so far is horrible.

StretchnEra
StretchnEra

After all this time and what We as people have learned...Jesus is still being partrayed as a white man. That's Just one major issue I have with this ungodly show...History channel dropped then ball on this one!

Goober
Goober

I recorded it because I thought it was a documentary.  As soon as I realized it was a movie I deleted it. 

Wisdom5
Wisdom5

I was excited to watch this series. Finally sat down lastnight to watch with my husband and we were so disappointed. Not sure what bible that Mark Brunett is looking at considering all of the errors. I believe he was trying so much to be politically correct and not offend people. The Almighty living God was totally disgraced. Brunett should stick with reality tv and leave the bible alone. I pray that people desire to see the truth and do not believe in the way that this show has portrayed actual events to have been. God is not to be made a mockery.  

CharisseAmanda
CharisseAmanda

Agreed @tristanwalker I like the History Channel's Bible too! Can't wait until Sunday.

WilliamLongestJr
WilliamLongestJr

THE BIBLE movie... FULLof inaccuracies. Isaac was about 19 when taken to be sacrificed, not 10. . Pharoah died at the Red Sea. The Ark DID NOT LEAK! Noah was given instructions by God to build it. Do you think the maker of all the universe would give directions for a leaky ark...really? The angels at Sodom & Gomorrah...Gladiators??? Really!!??

krush116
krush116

The Simpsons, at least in its first five or six seasons, was a great example of incorporating religion into characters' lives.  The family went to church on Sundays, said grace before meals, but only made these scenes part of the show when they were relevant to the plot.  Sometimes the kids complained about going to church, or questioned religion, as when Homer decided to start his own religion as an excuse to stay home from church, but I always appreciated how the show portrayed a fairly mainstream version of faith - not preachy (though the Flanders did offer much comic relief -"Break glass in case of emergency baptism") but also not looking down on believers.  Especially since most of the writing staff is Jewish.


A quote to end my post: Homer bowls a 300 and has a brief period of fame which quickly fades, leaving him forlorn in a conversation with Marge.  "Now I know how Jesus felt." "Homer, are you comparing yourself to our Lord?" "In bowling ability, yes."

SilenceNobody
SilenceNobody

@susanbnj @TIMECulture That channel will be baned in all schools and History Channel classified as a terrorist org

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

I watched 15 minutes.  Then deleted the series from my DVR.  Even more unbelievable than the book.  And Hatfields and McCoys series on network TV?  Isn't that just an expensive way of creating and selling action figures?

SDKacho
SDKacho

@poniewozik Always enjoyed that about Jed Bartlett.

Yuris Coursey
Yuris Coursey

I love it! I have been studying the Book of Genesis for the last 7 moths, I wasn't as accurate as the Bible but its a good beginning. That kind of TV was the one I watched when I was a kid!

Andy Pratt
Andy Pratt

I'm sure there will be stories...

Maria-Luis Laborda
Maria-Luis Laborda

it was pretty enterntaining for the whole family..it's religious and historic¡

icebergslim1047
icebergslim1047

I stopped at NBC creating an Hatfield & McCoy series.  Really?  I see that as massive failure.  The Bible is a take of many takes on the Bible that happens to be on television.  And network tv need to become more cable because most of my viewing is from cable and NOT network television.  This is an opportunity for network tv to really make a mark in writing good television which is sorely missed.

Kim Fishbourne
Kim Fishbourne

Oh, the history channel does fiction, that's nice.

Jose Moya
Jose Moya

I do remember a time growing up with religion as a great famliy foundation. It was like story telling the principles of life and bringing family and friends together. The Bible if interpret right can help to a degree, depending on your life circumstances...

Adam Yahel Martyr
Adam Yahel Martyr

I bet all you people defaming History channel, saying it lacks history, have never even opened a history book (history text books dont count either sorry), so save your cheap, cheesy, remarks. I personally relieved to finaly see a show that isn't pleasing the publics most primitive of instincts with disrespect and blasphemy for sacred things. Good job History, alot better than all the shows most people watch.

Jason Sallas
Jason Sallas

I missed this tho. Maybe I'll catch I rerun sometime.

Jason Sallas
Jason Sallas

I'm just sorry for delusional people who believe in a bearded man in the sky who watches everything we do, always needs more money, and destroys his creations he claims to love and be the father of. But I do enjoy a good, entertaining story! :)

Megan Henderson
Megan Henderson

Whether you believe in god or not the bible is apart of history and it's always good to have a basic understanding of all religions.

Britney Lawman
Britney Lawman

Folklore? Mythical? You'll get it eventually, I just sorry for nonbelievers. And I think it was accurate but it left a lot out but then if they televised every second of the bible it would go on for days and weeks.

Megan Henderson
Megan Henderson

maybe they should include ALL of it... the gnostic texts too. Not just the "traditional" bible.