Metroland News Service Mark Burnett and Roma Downey at the couple's meet-and-greet at the Crossroads Centre in Burlington. Their upcoming 5-part TV series, The Bible, debuts on the History Channel on March 3.

What do The Apprentice, Survivor, The Voice, Sarah Palin’s Alaska and The Bible have in common?

They’ve all been produced by reality TV mogul Mark Burnett.

OK, we’re not talking about that Bible, the holy book. We’re talking about the five-part, 10-hour TV drama called The Bible. The series, estimated by the Wall Street Journal to have cost $20 million to make, debuts on the History Channel on March 3 (a Sunday, of course). Burnett’s actress wife, Roma Downey (who played an angel in Touched By An Angel), plays Mother Mary, and Portuguese TV star Diogo Morgado is Jesus.

As you’ve probably figured out, The Bible is quite a leap from Burnett’s usual fare. For one thing, it has a script … and actors … and computer-generated special effects. Nobody gets fired or kicked off the island.

There is, however, a mighty flood, as well as a spectacular parting of the Red Sea, a suspense-filled showdown in a lion’s den, lots of epic battle scenes, sundry miracles, a fish dinner for 5,000, a virgin birth and a miraculous resurrection (to be featured in the final episode on Easter Sunday). Compelling stuff, perfect for cable television.

“People are willing to enjoy a period drama and this is the ultimate period drama,” Burnett told a news conference Tuesday in Burlington. “There are plenty of Romans in it, Babylonians, Egyptians, Israelites, epic battles. But what’s really epic about this are the heroes, who are flawed characters.”

The TV power couple was visiting the Crossroads Centre in Burlington for an appearance on the popular Christian TV talk show, 100 Huntley Street. After a brief news conference, Burnett and Downey mingled over canapés with more than 100 invited guests, who were then ushered into a studio for a sneak preview of the new series.

At the news conference, Burnett and Downey talked openly about their devotion to Christianity.

When asked if he considered The Bible a historical document, Burnett responded: “Yes, I consider the Bible as a fact.

“Does it have significant historical significance? Yes. Has it helped shape the Western World? Yes. It’s the foundation of all of our law and moral society, our literature, our art and movies are based upon it.”

The famed TV producer noted that the first Bible he can remember reading probably originated in Hamilton.

“In 1928, my mother’s family immigrated to Hamilton, Ontario, from Glasgow in Scotland and returned, I think, in 1935,” recalled Burnett, a native of Scotland.

“Always, growing up, there were these Bibles, one of them was my uncle’s Boys’ Brigade Bible. In that Bible, my mother used to show me these leaves he had pressed in Canada. They were maple leaves, so one of my youngest memories in life is this Bible that a young man had brought back from Canada. That young man died at 18 years of age in the Second World War. That Bible was really important in our family.”

The one-hour screening, a series of highlights pulled from several episodes, received a warm welcome from the invited guests. At the end, many in the audience stood to applaud.

Don Simmonds, chairman and CEO of Crossroads Christian Communications, hailed the series as “a wonderful gift to the global church.”

It’s the sort of reaction Burnett and Downey had hoped for. They feel The Bible is their most important work.

“Our greatest hope is that on Monday mornings, after this has aired on a Sunday night, people will be talking about The Bible around the water cooler,” Downey said. “This country needs that, America needs that. We need to be reminded of the moral fibre on which our countries were built.”

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