The History Channel's take on two epics — "The Bible" and "The Vikings" — seems to be the formula for ratings gold, as the new series' Sunday premieres drew record numbers for the cable network.
a Mark Burnett-produced miniseries that dramatizes scenes from what he calls "the most debated book of all time," debuted to 13.1 million total viewers Sunday, according to Nielsen. That's more than the two-hour season premiere of Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice," which also premiered Sunday (5 million viewers during the 9 p.m. hour on NBC). The millions who tuned in made "The Bible" the No. 1 entertainment telecast of the year on cable TV.
But Burnett and his wife/co-producer Roma Downey aren't surprised. It was their goal for the show to make waves.
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"We wanted it to look, sound and feel like a $100-million production, not some old donkeys-and-sandals movie of the past," Downey said. "We have incredible special effects with Moses parting the Red Sea, Jesus walking on water. We have this amazing international cast. We set out to create scale."
Divided into five two-hour episodes, the holy drama covers Genesis to Revelation with one overarching narrative. "The Bible" highlights some old favorites — Noah's ark, Adam and Eve, and the Exodus — and includes both the Old and New Testaments.
"The Vikings," a new scripted series that airs in the 10 p.m. spot after "The Bible," premiered to a more modest 6.2 million viewers Sunday, but it was enough to put the History Channel in competition with the big networks (ABC's new drama "Red Widow" barely did better with 6.8 million viewers during the 10 p.m. hour).
Filmed in Ireland, "The Vikings" tells the story of Ragnar Lodbrok, one of the most popular Norse heroes and Viking kings.
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"The Bible" is on Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on the History Channel, followed by "The Vikings" at 10 p.m. EST.
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