Sacred mystery: Blockbuster ratings for ‘The Bible’ confound Hollywood

by
March 17, 2013

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.

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