It’s a pretty good bet that if the Bible was a new book, the critics would pan it.
Not that the History channel’s Bible miniseries, which also was jeered by the intelligentsia, is any kind of stand-in for the good book.
But the series, which concludes fittingly enough on Easter Sunday, is sufficiently faithful to the Old and New Testaments – and so skillfully produced – that it has become a ratings blockbuster.
“The show’s debut episode attracted 13.1 million viewers,” notes the Deseret (Utah) News, “which was twice as many people as watched any show on NBC in the month of February.”
As the New York Times wrote last month, NBC’s ratings “have dissipated to numbers so small they have not been seen before by any broadcast network.”
Yet, such networks continue to look away condescendingly from programs such as The Bible.
Only the media are surprised when viewers do otherwise.
As the Deseret News noted, critics early on derided the Bible series as a “cheesefest,” as “flat and often tedious” and as “cardboard characters surrounded by (computer-generated) frippery.”
So, when people defied the critics and flocked to see it by the millions, that stunned the supposed experts in the media, who are now calling it a “surprise hit” – “which demonstrates that those who ignore the hunger for respectful religious entertainment can be surprised rather easily,” the Deseret paper opined.
It’s not just religious offerings, either, that are consistently undervalued in Hollywood; it’s wholesomeness in general – even though such movies and shows earn some of the best
ratings and profits.
Nor is this just an entertainment phenomenon: News and feature shows and news networks that consistently show disdain for traditional American and faith-based values are not trending well in ratings.
Cable networks may never be considered synonymous with wholesomeness, certainly. But in airing the Bible miniseries, the History channel has discovered what the big broadcast networks seem long ago to have forgotten: Virtue sells.
The original broadcast channels also have lost much of their dominance as the smaller cable networks exhibit more
agility and creativity in their programming. The big broadcast networks have been running a small number of prime-time themes into the ground – reality shows, talent shows and crime shows chief among them. With big budgets and large legacy costs, they don’t appear willing to take the risks their cable competitors do.
But isn’t it amazing that serving up a respectful retelling of the Bible – undoubtedly history’s runaway bestselling book – is considered one of those risks?
Perhaps only if you can’t see in front of you because you’re too busy looking down your nose at people.