The BibleIt was a big night for History, whose 10-hour miniseries The Bible opened with 13.1 million viewers and 4.6 million adults 25-54 to rank as the No.1 cable entertainment telecast of the year. It was followed by the debut of the network’s first original scripted series, The Vikings, which rode The Bible‘s coattails to draw 6.2 million viewers, 2.5 million Adults 18-49 and 2.7 million Adults 25-54, beating the broadcast networks at 10 PM in the 18-49 demo. The rollout was part of a new strategy by male-skewing History which is launching the bulk of its programming after the end of football season this year.

The success of The Bible, which averaged 4.6 million adults 25-54, proves the enormous potential of religious-themed entertainment programming aimed at Christian audiences. GSN also has scored with its American Bible Challenge. In its marketing campaign, The Bible, executive produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, used some of the companies that helped make Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ a blockbuster and used some of the same techniques, including doing grass-roots campaigning and gaining the support of prominent evangelicals. The premiere of the mini, which has received mixed reviews, was preceded by a massive push on Twitter, led by Burnett. “Clearly there is a nationwide groundswell that was waiting for this moment,” said Nancy Dubuc, President, Entertainment and Media, A+E Networks. “We launched an incredible and coordinated campaign.” The Bible, produced by Lightworkers Media and Hearst Entertainment & Syndication, averaged 14.8 million viewers, 5 million Adults 18-49 and 5.6 million Adults 25-54 over two airings last night. It will continue to air two-hour installments every Sunday, culminating with its conclusion on Easter Sunday.

The VikingsVikings‘ premiere ranks as the No.1 new cable series launch of the year among total viewers and Adults 25-54. Over two telecasts, the opener amassed 8.3 million viewers, 3.4 million adults 18-49 and 3.8 million adults 25-54. “We knew our audience had an appetite for this unexpected storytelling and it was a big bet that paid off,” Dubuc said. Vikings was created and written by Michael Hirst who serves as exec producer along with Morgan O’Sullivan, John Weber, Sherry Marsh, Alan Gasmer, James Flynn and Sheila Hockin. MGM TV is distributing internationally.