“It’s great to back to CBS. It’s been 20 years since Touched by An Angel…we made over 200 episodes, Roma Downey reminded TV critics this morning as she pitched her two-part miniseries The Dovekeepers to TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2015.
Ann Peacock was tapped a year ago to adapt the Alice Hoffman bestseller for Downey and husband Mark Burnett – Hollywood’s It Couple when it comes to religious programming since scoring massive ratings for their The Bible 10-part mini on History.
Hoffman’s historical novel is about the siege of Masada, focusing on “four extraordinary women whose lives intersect in a fight for survival,” according to CBS. 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. Cote de Pablo stars along with Rachel Brosnahan, Kathryn Prescott, Diego Boneta and Sam Neill.
The network showed critics the first trailer for the four-hour miniseries, which premieres Tuesday, March 31, followed by Part 2 on Wednesday, April 1. (Watch it above.)
“Alice Hoffman said when she went to Masada and learned through that only two people and five children survived she took it as the seed of a narrative and built this beautiful fictional story,” Downey said this morning. “What attracted me is it had these amazingly powerful and courageous women. For many years as an actress myself I was always looking for the story or scripts that really put women out front and center. This does that. It’s profoundly moving.”
Although Downey calls The Dovekeepers a story of hope, and perfect for these times, she acknowledged it’s steeped in tragedy — describing a scene in which one of the women standing at the edge of the fortress sees a plume of smoke and “comes to the awful realization it’s the Roman army come for these 900 people — thousands of them” and their gradual realization that their initial sense “no one was ever going to be able to reach them…turns into a nightmare.”
Twenty years ago, Downey said of Touched By An Angel, “we were the little train…the first season we didn’t know what would happen, and at its height there were 20 million people that watched every week, for a very core message of faith and love. I think we’re seeing the desire for that is back. I think that with ratings we received on our Bible series; 100 million people tuning in shows people are interested in these themes and hungry for product that inspires and elevates…I am very encouraged by that hunger and I’m personally excited because it’s the kind of material I’m interested in making – and I’m delighted to be back on CBS.”
Asked how she and her husband work together and who performs what function in the production of programming, Downy said, “in this particular circumstance it was myself who read the book and felt the call to bring The Dovekeepers to the screen. As for Burnett, “there is no better man to wrangle large groups of people in remote areas,” she joked, adding, “It’s a great privilege to be able to do what you love to do, and to be able to do it with the person you love most of all in the world.”
Downey acknowledged she’s been fortunate in her career. As a woman in her 50s, she said, “it’s often a time when people are taking a step back in their career, and I feel really encouraged that I have stepped forward into a whole new chapter of my career as a producer. It gets complicated as an actor in your 40s and 50s.”
De Pablo corrected one critic’s suggestion things have been “quiet on the career front” for her since leaving CBS’ popular procedural crime drama NCIS. “Well, in regard to the ‘quiet’, I am quiet, but I have been working,” she said pointedly, drawing the critic’s attention to her well-reported casting last January in The 33, the feature film based on the 2010 rescue of 33 Chilean miners after being trapped 69 days in the Copiapo gold and copper mine more than half an mile below the earth’s surface. But, she acknowledged, “I have been spending time with family, which is very important to me. How can I tell stories if I’m not infused by life? ”
Downey, in turn, pointed out the miniseries will air after NCIS when it debuts. De Pablo clasped Downey’s hand and looked pleasantly surprised.