Mark Burnett was in Toronto this week to do a little Bible thumping. The reality TV czar and his actress wife, Roma Downey, blitzed the city to promote their miniseries The Bible, which will premiere March 3 on History. The 10-hour, five-part miniseries was shot in southern Morocco last summer at a cost of $20 million, which is a pretty thrifty budget now-a-days. Rome, a series Burnett referenced at Tuesday’s press meet-and-greet in Burlington, Ont., cost HBO and BBC a whopping $100 million for 10 episodes in 2005.
Then again, Burnett and Downey do seem to have more than money on their side. The executive producer and the former Touched by an Angel star, a co-creator on this project, have been fully embraced by the Christian faith community. During the screening Tuesday, they were prayed for and the faithful were encouraged to use social media to get the word out to others in the community to watch the series.
The stated objective was to crack a million viewers a week on History in Canada. Having seen about an hour of the miniseries, I wouldn’t bet against it. The stories are compelling, and if there are liberties being taken with the dialogue, it may just help connect this Bible to younger viewers. When the apostle Peter asks a very hippie-looking Jesus (played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado), what they’re going to do next (Jesus has just filled Peter’s boat with fish), the answer is “change the world.” It’s more Obama-speak than scripture, but Burnett believes viewers will get the message.
Burnett remarked to me that the series is getting little support from the secular press. There certainly were few of us representing among the 100 invited guests at Crossroads. The Crossroad gathering seems to be just one stop on an end run around print media, Burnett’s way of taking his message directly to the converted. It is likely to resonate, with companion educational programs being made available to Christian school communities.
The couple, who genuinely seem quite crazy about each other, did make a few conventional Toronto media stops. One was getting up early for Canada AM Monday.
Always a gifted storyteller, Burnett talked about a soldier uncle in nearby Hamilton, Ont., who died in the war but left behind a bible that wound up back in his family home in London. As a youngster, Burnett treasured the Canadian maple leaf pressed in the pages of the book. That bible now has a place of honor in the couple’s house.
He spoke also of shooting in the Moroccan dessert and how the shoot was “many hours by camel” from civilization. Years ago, he shot an edition of Eco-Challenge in the region.
There was talk, too, of how snakes had to be wrangled and cleared daily from location shoots–not unlike how things go on The Apprentice.
Downey has fond memories of shooting a couple of TV-movies in Toronto in the ’90s, including the Christmas annual Borrowed Hearts with Eric McCormack. She remains best friends with Cynthia Dale, a fellow Michael Power/St. Joe’s grad who co-starred with Downey in the original New York production of Tamara. Burnett and Downey supped with Dale and Peter Mansbridge Monday night.
Downey, who retains her charming Irish lilt, recalls sharing a dressing room with Dale. “It’s been my experience,” she says, “that if you share a dressing room with someone, you either remain friends for life or you never speak to them again.”
After the Crossroads session, it was back to the airport and Malibu for the Hollywood power couple. Parked out front waiting was both a stretch limo and a Brinks truck; it was impossible to tell which was waiting for them.