Can 'The Bible' be a ratings olive branch for NBC?

Tue Jul 2, 2013 8:30pm EDT
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By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - NBC is praying that its pick up of popular cable miniseries "The Bible" will improve its ratings, a move that analysts have pegged as a low-risk gamble for the struggling U.S. television network.

"The Bible," whose 10-episode run on the History Channel network this spring averaged about 11 million viewers per installment, lit up TV ratings by pulling in 13.1 million viewers for its March 3 debut, topping all broadcast shows.

Meanwhile, Comcast Corp-owned NBC finished fifth in the competitive February sweeps that sets ad rates, edged out by Spanish-language network Univision and illustrating that NBC's lineup is a limited draw aside from its annual slate of professional football telecasts in the fall.

"Even if only a third of the people who watched it on the History Channel tune in, it would be an NBC-sized win for the network," said television analyst David Bianculli. "NBC has so few chips left at the table."

"The Bible" sequel, which does not have an expected air or production date, has the working title "A.D.: Beyond the Bible," and picks up in the time following Jesus Christ's death and resurrection.

"NBC is sort of really lost ... at sea - if you're at sea maybe you look for a dove with an olive branch," said Bianculli, who teaches at Rowan University in New Jersey.

That dove and olive branch could be "The Bible" creators Mark Burnett and his actress-wife Roma Downey.

Burnett is best known as the executive producer of NBC singing contest "The Voice" and the U.S. version of pioneering reality series "Survivor." Downey, who played Jesus' mother Mary in "The Bible," has a strong Christian following from her time on CBS religious-themed drama "Touched by an Angel."   Continued...