Mark Burnett and Roma Downey — the new It Couple of TV Miniseries/Event Series — have landed CBS‘ first announced project from its new limited series and event programming unit. And yes, it’s an historical series with religious overtones. The Dovekeepers is a four-hour miniseries based in Alice Hoffman’s historical novel about the Siege of Masada, and it will air on CBS in 2015. The mini will focus on “four extraordinary women whose lives intersect in a fight for survival at the siege of Masada,” the network said. Masada is the mountaintop fortress near the Dead Sea where the Romans found the last pocket of resistance after they conquered Jerusalem in 70 CE.
CBS, in its announcement, noted The Dovekeepers hails from the team behind the Emmy-nominated 10-hour miniseries The Bible, which scored big ratings for History in March, ranking as the top cable entertainment telecast of the year to date and helping make History the No. 1-ranked cable network for that month. The Bible opened with 13 million tuned in — which, CBS execs no doubt noted at the time, is about as many people as watched the opening of their Stephen King project Under The Dome (before factoring in DVR viewing on subsequent days) last summer. 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. It also spawned a feature film version to be released by Fox in February (check out that trailer here). In addition to its broadcast on CBS, The Dovekeepers will be distributed to countries around the world by CBS Studios International.
In this morning’s announcement, CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler noted The Dovekeepers is “a compelling, beautifully written novel that combines history and fiction, ” adding, “Mark and Roma possess an amazing passion for telling biblical stories and for producing entertaining television on an event scale.”
It’s conceivable that, with a broadcast platform, The Dovekeepers (and The Bible sequel that NBC bought in July) could attract an even bigger crowd. 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. Unclear whether it’ll clock as big an audience as did NBC’s live remake of The Sound Of Music last week, which logged nearly 19 million viewers in its premiere.
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. 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’d be making TV themselves, wouldn’t they?” (Sound Of Music star Carrie Underwood took a different tack with bad reviews, tweeting that “mean people need Jesus”.)
In that interview, Burnett said 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. Downey has said in interviews that the idea for that miniseries was “God’s idea placed in my heart.” No word in re whether Downey will play one of the female leads in The Dovekeepers.
“This novel is a testament to the human spirit and how love can rise from the ashes of war. It is, quite simply, an amazing story of heroism and hope, and a story that must be seen not just with the eyes but felt with the heart,” she said in today’s announcement.
“I am thrilled that my novel The Dovekeepers, produced by Roma Downey, who I so admire for her vision and strong commitment to the stories of women of the ancient world, will be at CBS with Nina Tassler, who is dedicated to storytelling at the highest level,” added Hoffman, who will also serve as a consultant on the miniseries. The Dovekeepers is a co-production between CBS Television Studios and LightWorkers Media. Downey and Burnett are executive producers. The CBS executive overseeing production is VP Limited Series & Event Programming Stacey Mandelberg. LightWorkers Media is repped by WME.