Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

History Channel Refreshes ‘The Bible’. Creation Theory #1

The History Channel recently announced The Bible, a 10-hour dramatic series – History calls it a ‘docu-drama’ – that explores Biblical stories.

Mark Burnett is the producer.

  • For History, it’s another big stride out of its Factual comfort zone and further towards Scripted television and signature docu-dramas
  • And it’s a new direction for Burnett, a Hollywood class act and producer of multiple Reality hits including Survivor, The Apprentice and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

So what is the genesis of The Bible?

Here, we explore two theories about how History Channel’s commissioned the series

  • These are just theories
  • They’re non-exclusive
  • But are worth considering for the light they shine on our industry’s structure and practices


Creation Theory #1
History Channel Refreshes a Golden Oldie. Chooses a Promotable, Rock-solid Producer

The Story

The Bible is an evergreen source of television programming

For example

  • Mysteries of the Bible ran on A&E from 1994-2002
  • History’s Biblical offer has included The Real Face of Jesus? and Jesus: The Lost 40 Days
  • BBC, Nat Geo, Discovery and numerous other networks have successfully developed and scheduled Bible-based Factual series and specials

And on the Scripted side, TNT’s The Bible was a hit mini-series worldwide

  • It enjoyed an exceptional afterlife in the DVD and educational markets, where it became beloved by all faiths and denominations 

The Art of the Refreshment

History’s programming team really does see the value in refreshing series concepts


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More Scripted!

History wants to expand its audience by increasing the presence  in its mix of original Scripted programs and Signature-level docu-dramas

  • In January this year, History declined to accept delivery of its commissioned 8-part series, The Kennedys
    •  It was rumored that the Kennedy family had exerted pressure on History through Disney, an AETN part-owner
    • The Kennedys went on to become a hit despite its carriage on the unknown ReelzChannel
  • During the controversy, History reasserted its commitment to Scripted

The Pitcher

Burnett’s partner (and wife) is Roma Downey the star of the long-running CBS hit Touched by an Angel

  • They conceived a project inspired by the epic scale of Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments
  • They pitched The Bible to History

For History decision-makers:

  • Mark Burnett is a winner
  • He’s a promotable industry legend
    • Doesn’t everyone want to write about an East London working class lad whose CV includes a stint in the Falklands conflict and another as a Beverly Hills babysitter?

There are some ‘think twice’ factors:

  • History worked with Burnett in 2009
    • His series Expedition Africa about the search for Dr Livingstone was a flop
    • But the day-to-day producer/commissioner relationship must have gone well
  • Burnett hasn’t created a hit docu-drama 
    • (But there’s no shortage of talented show runners who can get the job done)
  • Sarah Palin’s Alaska was not renewed by TLC in 2011
  • Burnett is one of a handful of ‘super preferred’ producers with the power to charge networks a premium
    • And businesses everywhere dislike paying premium pricing

The Green Light

  • History’s senior executives considered these and other factors
  • They green lit The Bible, according to Mark Burnett and Roma Downey
  • Their recommendation was approved by A+E Networks’ executive management team, which has final sign off

Coming Next: Creation Theory #2

  • Hearst Entertainment is an A+E Networks’ stakeholder
  • Hearst recently bought 50% of  Mark Burnett Productions
  • And …


  • Thoughts on the budget for The Bible
  • What else did History green light at the 2011 Upfronts?