The History Channel celebrated "The Bible's" success (and the likelihood of Emmy nominations) with a screening and Q&A with the show's producers, husband and wife Mark Burnett and Roma Downey earlier this week. Last year, "Hatfields & McCoys" pulled off 16 nominations. "The Bible" is poised to surpass it. After all, the finale drew 11.7 million viewers.
Why did this miniseries command such a staggering audience? Burnett and Downey discussed their blessings before a devout audience, and we have boiled down their remarks about the phenomenal success into 10 points. Like the Ten Commandments, sort of.
1. Sampson and Delilah are great characters.
It can't be said enough that solid characters make solid TV. If you think about it, "The Bible" is like the original Lifetime movie, what with all the frisky dudes, the biblical consequences, the bad girls, and, of course, the snappy dialogue. For example, Bathsheba resists King David, citing loyalty to her husband. The king leers before planting one on her neck, "What about your king?" Hello damnation and ratings.
2. Downey and Burnett are productive lovebirds.
They held hands onstage, and it didn't seem forced. Downey said that "The Bible" is "a love story of God's love for all of us," and it didn't sound cheesy. She also said, "We're just two people on the crew," and it didn't sound like hogwash. It's a real Hollywood miracle: They are humbled by their success, and they still like each other after working together. No wonder Burnett says the project was blessed by God.
3. There was a good division of labor.
Burnett is quick to point out that while he has produced hundreds of hours of reality television, he has very little experience with actors. And Downey was all over that. "We tried to keep him away from the actors," she laughed. "He would come to Moses [William Houston] and say, 'This is the most important role, and more people see this,' and you could see the actor's eyeballs going wild." But when it comes to making things happen in a remote location on a shoestring budget, Burnett is obviously the best man for the job.
4. Morocco rocks.
It was 30 percent more expensive to shoot in Morocco than in South Africa, but Burnett says it was worth every penny. It's the classic film land where "Lawrence of Arabia" was shot, and the local workers were highly invested. Downey said they would ask the crew members to donate their time, and the crew would say yes. What?!
5. Burnett and Downey deserve Best Boss Ever mugs.
They had an Avid on set so that everyone, "including the guy who cleaned the toilets," could see whole scenes. Not dailies, mind you, edited scenes with music. Burnett was passionate and adamant about sharing the work as they proceeded: "We wanted every single person to feel important. Everybody stepped up the extra mile because they knew they were part of something important. The Bible is the most influential book ever."
6. Downey is Mary. Not "Old Mary."
Downey calls playing Mary a great challenge and a privilege. And it almost didn't happen. "Young Mary" was cast. The script called for "Old Mary" to appear, and Burnett wanted Downey to take the part, but she resisted. Downey said that after she prayed on it and decided to take the part, she put an end to the "Old Mary" business. "I changed that very quickly," she laughed.
7. They paid attention to their kids.
Burnett and Downey have three teenagers, which means they can do their market research at home. They noticed that their kids were bingeing on shows. "You can't know about the next year," Downey said. "But you can put aside five hours or 10 hours to watch something." That's why they felt that this is a great moment for miniseries to come back.
8. They didn't pay attention to Hollywood.
Downey adamantly wanted a love story, and the networks didn't see the Bible that way. "It's hard to get someone to allow you to make anything. In the pitch, I said, "The train has left the station." They asked, "Are Americans interested in the Bible?" We were certain they are, and we were committed to each other, and I said, "You can get on the train or not, but the train has left the station." Snap! The History Channel, which skews male, seems like a strange home for a love story, but Burnett didn't hesitate: "People are show loyal, not network loyal."
9. They found guys who seriously know how to crucify.
The crucifixion scene took three days to shoot. There was wind. There was danger and there was stress. But it went off without a hitch because the Moroccan crew has done this before. A lot. "They've done over 50 crucifixions," Burnett said. And that has to be comforting for the guy up on the cross, too.
Stealing a page out of the Carrie Bradshaw playbook, the "Bible" producers elaborated on the importance of legitimate footwear. "Every piece of footwear is handmade," Downey explained. They had a functioning tannery where people distressed the costumes so that "nobody looked like they stepped out of a dry cleaners." Amen. Literally.