- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

LOS ANGELES — As a boy in the 1960s, reality TV king Mark Burnett was thrilled by the special-effects miracle of a sundered Red Sea in “The Ten Commandments.”

“How cool was that?” said the producer of “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” who watched Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 film when it aired on television.

Now it’s Mr. Burnett’s turn to wow a small-screen audience with epic Scripture stories: He and his wife, actress Roma Downey, are producing the 10-part docudrama “The Bible” for the History Channel.

It’s set to air in 2013, History Channel President Nancy Dubuc said Tuesday.

The series will combine live action with computer-generated imagery to retell stories ranging from Noah’s Ark to Exodus to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Shooting is planned for the Middle East and elsewhere.

Mr. Burnett said he and Miss Downey (who starred in a different look at religion, the fantasy series “Touched by an Angel”) have been working on the project for two years. Both grew up with Scriptures, he in England and she in Northern Ireland, but aren’t on a mission, Mr. Burnett said.

“People apply personal meanings to the Bible. Our job is to tell the stories in an emotionally connected way,” he said, adding that much of the West’s great literature and its characters are rooted in the book.

The cable channel, which has done religious-focused projects since it debuted, was looking for a worthy follow to the 12-hour series “America: The Story of Us,” Ms. Dubuc said.

For a new generation, “The Bible” provides a way to visit the work “in a visual and entertaining way” that may encourage viewers to seek more information, she said.

The project also has global appeal, of value to the History Channel and its 150-country reach, Ms. Dubuc said, adding that “The Bible” is among the channel’s biggest ventures, though she declined to detail the budget.

The History Channel, which had partnered with Mr. Burnett on “Expedition Africa,” had a series of talks with him about his wish to explore the Bible and his approach, Ms. Dubuc said.

It became apparent that “his vision was to do the Bible much the way we did ‘The Story of Us,’ ” she said.

There is no conflict between the new series and the channel’s brand, the executive said. “Regardless of your beliefs — and we’re not drawing on any feelings about the importance of faith — this is the most-studied book of all time,” she said.

“The Bible” series is using the New International Version, the translation preferred by evangelical Christian leaders, and the New Revised Standard Version, Ms. Dubuc said. A committee of theologians and scholars is being assembled to consult on the series.

Mr. Burnett called it humbling to portray the Scriptures on screen and gratifying to “breathe fresh visual life into incredible stories for a global audience.”

The miniseries offers rare depth and the chance to create a “legacy” project, said Mr. Burnett, 50, whose credits include the new singing contest “The Voice” and the upcoming Emmy Awards ceremony.

“I could be 80 or 90 and it could still be on television,” he said of “The Bible.”

Earlier this year, the History Channel stumbled with another major project, the controversial, multimillion-dollar miniseries “The Kennedys.” The channel decided not to air it, saying it had concluded the “dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.” The miniseries aired in April on ReelzChannel.

History is owned by the A&E Television Networks, which itself is owned jointly by NBC Universal, the Walt Disney Co. and the Hearst Corp.