UPDATE: 10:38 AM: NBC: turning to Christ to deliver it from its ratings hole. The network announced this morning it had bought the sequel to History’s hit miniseries The Bible from Mark Burnett — who also exec produces the broadcast network’s The Voice and Celebrity Apprentice. At the recent Produced By Conference, Burnett said he was working on a sequel to the 10-part miniseries that ranked as the top cable entertainment telecast of the year to date and helped make History the No. 1-ranked cable network for the month of March. “I could spend the next 10 years just distributing the Bible series” and the movie version he’s adapted, Burnett quipped happily at that confab. In this morning’s announcement, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said he followed closely the development of The Bible “and knew that the story was far from over after Christ’s Crucifixion. In fact, what happened in the aftermath — which is essentially the beginning of Christianity — is utterly fascinating.” Greenblatt said he’d told Burnett after seeing The Bible’s opening numbers that NBC was “on board with no hesitation for the follow-up miniseries.”

The Bible opened with 13 million tuned in — about as many people as watched the opening of CBS’ Stephen King project Under The Dome — before factoring in DVR viewing on subsequent days. For No. 1-rated CBS, that is a big number – for ratings-starved NBC, it’s manna from heaven. Only two shows on NBC clocked a bigger crowd than that during the recently concluded TV season: Sunday Night Football and both nights of The Voice. In its first week of home video release, The Bible was the top-selling miniseries of all time and the No. 1 ranked TV series on DVD and Blu-ray over the past five years — surpassing 1 million units sold in the past three months.

Burnett gained press attention for his unusual marketing campaign on The Bible, which included screenings at mega-churches. TV critics, on the other hand, gave it a cold shoulder, calling it more action flick than spiritual journey like they meant it to sting. Fortunately, Burnett told CBS Sunday Morning back around the time it launched that TV critics didn’t matter on this one. “If the TV critics were so good, they’ve be making TV themselves, wouldn’t they?” Burnett said on the Sunday show. Making The Bible was a “spiritual,” not a commercial, calling, and has been for him “such a growth, and maybe that’s the biggest blessing of all.” It’s also was a great way to resurrect wife Roma Downey’s career — the former Touched By An Angel star played Mary and executive produced with Burnett. Downey has said in interviews that the idea for the miniseries was “God’s idea placed in my heart.”

David Kavek
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And here's how it went down: NBC Chair: "We have to get our lame-o ratings out of...
David
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That's what you think
Michael Heister
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So Mark Burnett's making a sequel to The Bible. Wouldn't that be The Qur'an???

The Bible sequel could conceivably attract an even bigger crowd than did the original, by virtue of moving to broadcast TV. Heck, ABC’s bazillionth broadcast of the 1956 Charlton Heston/Cecil B. DeMille Old Testament extravaganza The Ten Commandments still manages to pop about 6 million viewers every year. That could also mean bigger controversy — no mention was made in NBC’s announcement as to whether Satan would be re-cast going forward. During the original History miniseries run, a kerfuffle erupted in re whether the Satan actor bore a more than passing resemblance to President Obama. At one point, the hashtag #ObamaIsNotSatan was trending worldwide on Twitter. “The actor who played Satan . . . is a highly acclaimed Moroccan actor. He has previously played parts in several Biblical epics — including Satanic characters — long before Barack Obama was elected as our President,” Burnett said in a statement that day, while wife Downey had gone on to note that she and Burnett “have nothing but respect and love” for Obama, noting that he’s “a fellow Christian”.

PREVIOUSLY, 9:28 AM: NBC has acquired Mark Burnett’s follow-up to his enormously popular miniseries The Bible. A.D: Beyond The Bible will be exec produced by Burnett (already is in business with NBC via The Voice, The Celebrity Apprentice and the upcoming The Sing-Off) and Roma Downey. They announced the sequel during the Produced By Conference last month. More to come on this, but here’s the release from the network:

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. – July 01, 2013 – Award-winning executive producer Mark Burnett (“The Voice,” “Celebrity Apprentice”) will continue his relationship with the peacock network by bringing “A.D.: BEYOND THE BIBLE,” (working title) to NBC, his follow-up project with his wife, Roma Downey, to this spring’s enormously popular 10-part miniseries “The Bible.” The announcement was made by Jennifer Salke, President of NBC Entertainment, and Bob Greenblatt, Chairman of NBC Entertainment.

“NBC is thrilled to bring this highly-anticipated sequel to Mark and Roma’s ‘The Bible’ to network television,” said Salke. “There was huge interest in this project within the television community and NBC is gratified by Mark’s confidence in our ability to partner with him and position this miniseries as true event television.“

Greenblatt added: “I followed the development process of ‘The Bible’ closely with Mark and knew that the story was far from over after Christ’s Crucifixion. In fact, what happened in the aftermath – which is essentially the beginning of Christianity – is utterly fascinating. The day after ‘The Bible’ premiered, I told Mark we were on board with no hesitation for the follow-up miniseries. This will be attention-getting in every way, and we’re proud to continue our association with Mark which has just grown exponentially from ‘The Voice.’”

“We are thrilled to be working with Bob, Jen and Quinn Taylor to bring the follow-up to our hit cable series ‘The Bible’ to broadcast television with NBC,” said Burnett and Downey. “Our new series, A.D.: BEYOND THE BIBLE, is another massive project and a major commitment, but it’s a story that has to be told. It’s a story that changed the world. We look forward to making this an enormous television event on NBC.”

Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s epic follow up to their #1 miniseries, “The Bible,” — A.D.: BEYOND THE BIBLE — begins in the dark days after Jesus’ betrayal and death. A perfect storm brews in the Holy Land, fueled by social injustice, Roman military oppression and religious unrest. High priests and the Herod dynasty vie for power. Zealot revolutionaries turn to violence to regain what they believe is their promised land. And in the face of terrible odds and brutal persecution, the small band of Jesus’ disciples stand against the combined might of Rome and their own local authorities. In a generation of rebellion, war, famine, and carnage, who can they trust? Who should they fear? Will tomorrow bring a violent death? For many, it does … but others survive, and as the storm around them breaks, the fate of Israel, of Rome and of their faith is decided.

“The Bible,” which was produced by Burnett and Downey’s LightWorkers Media and starred Downey as Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the number one new cable series of 2013 and dominated both ratings and media attention this spring. In its first week of home video release, “The Bible” was the top-selling miniseries of all time and the number one television series on DVD and Blu-Ray in the past five years. It has just surpassed 1 million units sold in the past three months.

AD: Beyond the Bible will be executive produced by “The Bible” team of Roma Downey, Mark Burnett and Richard Bedser. It will be a co-production between LightWorkers Media, Hearst Productions and Universal Television.