Friday, March 15, 2013

Washington Times: The Success of the History Channel's "The Bible" Confounds Hollywood

The Washington Times has an article on this. It trails off into some weird territory at the end--Ayn Rand made a fitness special or something with the Big Oil Lobby (hey, I got bored so I might be confused).

But it starts off by making some valid points.

It seems "swords and sandals films" are not as "non-mainstream" as one might think.

Sure, it’s easy to criticize Hollywood, but try to remember that the entertainment industry today is an intellectually demanding environment, fraught with cognitively challenging, even intractable, questions, like, to take one recent example: How can the cable mini-series “The Bible” be such a ratings hit when there is no audience for overtly religious entertainment programming? 
According to the latest Nielsens, released Tuesday, Sunday night’s telecast of “The Bible,” produced by husband-and-wife team Mark Burnett and Roma Downey for basic cable’s History channel, managed to attract more viewers than anything on broadcast network NBC … during the entire week.

The second installment of this five-part mini-series airing at 8-10 p.m. Sundays through Easter — the first foray into scripted drama for “Survivor” creator Burnett — drew 10.8 million viewers, good for number one in its timeslot and number 11 overall for the week. 
Even bigger was part one the week before, which amassed an audience of 13.1 million viewers, cable’s largest of the year. That series premiere topped the ratings for both of the week’s episodes of “American Idol.” (Not the first time the Almighty has bested idols in head-to-head competition in this ancient rivalry — but, still, an impressive feat, even if Fox’s longtime ratings juggernaut is showing signs of slippage.) 
Blockbuster ratings for a compilation of bible stories from a reality TV producer taking his first crack at drama? Can’t be. If there was a market for biblical epics, then Hollywood wouldn’t have long ago abandoned the genre, a staple of the feature film industry back in the days of Cinerama. Or was it Cinemascope? Don’t ask me. I wasn’t even alive. Or if I was, I was only just beginning to grasp the essentials of widescreen projection techniques, which was offered as an elective at the nursery school where I was then enrolled. 
Makes no sense. It’s not as if “The Bible” got any help from TV critics. Its Metacritic scores averaged just 44, the low end of the “mixed reviews” range as measured by the review aggregation site.

As a cable series, “The Bible” lacked the ready-made, large scale promotional platform and popular lead-in that can drive strong ratings for a new show on a major broadcast network, of the kind NBC was, for many years.

And we all know better than to credit the mini-series’ success to its unembarrassed reverence for its sacred source material. After all, last year History had an even bigger hit with “Hatfields and McCoys” — and that was a bloody saga of trigger-happy mountain clans who were not big on turning the other cheek.

Of course, “Hatfields and McCoys” did star Kevin Costner. No, he’s not still the leading male star in Hollywood — but nobody’s perfect. He’ll do for basic cable. 
As for “The Bible’s” cast — aside from Miss Downey (Mother Mary), arguably still semi-famous from her long run on the CBS hit “Touched By an Angel,” it’s devoid of name actors. Unless you count series star Diogo Morcaldo (Jesus Christ). Mr. Morcaldo is indeed a household name, all up and down the western littoral of the Iberian Peninsula, in fact, in his native Portugal. 
No critical love. No marketing oomph. No-name cast. Together equal — what else? — ratings smash!

Probably just coincidence, but the same kind of paradox confounded Hollywood some years ago, as it pondered the improbable success of another biblical movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” Of course, that international blockbuster had movie icon Mel Gibson. Not on screen, no. But it did land Jim Caviezel for the lead role. CAVIEZEL. That’s C-A-V …

And once Jim Caviezel was attached to star, it was practically inevitable that “The Passion of the Christ” would go on to become the all-time top-grossing R-rated movie in the U.S., and rake in over $600 million worldwide. As if. No, here again, we must admit, answers are elusive.

1 comment:

JohnE said...

I'm glad to see this post. I am watching The Bible series and hope it continues to do well. It's certainly good to see this on TV. My only complaint is that it feels like too much of an overview, with too little time to really do much character development. Not sure there's a way around that when you're trying to do the bible in 10 1-hour episodes. It would really be more suited to 10 seasons than 10 episodes.

I also find it interesting to see what sorts of artistic licenses are taken, which I also realize is necessary for this sort of project. I found Samuel's "reconciliation" with David at the end of episode 2 to be quite different than what seems like true contrition in the actual bible story.