Mark Burnett's 'The Bible' begets record ratings

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History Channel’s The Bible premiere delivered divine Nielsen ratings Sunday night, thumping all of the major broadcast shows.

The miniseries’ two-hour cable network premiere was seen by 13.1 million viewers and scored a 3.3 rating among adults 18-49. That’s more viewers and a higher demo rating than any show on the major broadcast networks last night and ranks as cable’s most-watched entertainment telecast this year. If you include the show’s repeat, the viewership rises to 14.8 million for the night.

“The success of The Bible has catapulted History into one of the most powerful brands across media landscape and we could not be more thrilled and more proud,” Nancy Dubuc, president of A&E Networks. “Clearly there is a nationwide groundswell that was waiting for this moment … An enormous debt of gratitude goes out to everyone and the amazing effort put forth to drive us to this amazing win. Clearly the passion for this project has resonated with our viewers and across the nation. We are thrilled, and the story is only just beginning.”

The Bible couldn’t quite top History’s previous record-setting mini Hatfields & McCoys, however, which had a stunning 13.9 million viewers for its premiere last year. And last night’s 18-49 demo rating is almost certainly lower than AMC’s mega-hit The Walking Dead (those ratings will not be released until tomorrow), though The Bible very likely had more viewers.

The Bible is a 10-hour live-action miniseries executive produced by Survivor and Celebrity Apprentice executive producer Mark Burnett along with his wife Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel). Burnett has said he made the special effects-filled project to help tackle “Bible illiteracy” among young people. “In school, you have to know a certain amount of Shakespeare, but no Bible,” Burnett told the Christian Science Monitor. “So there’s got to be a way to look at it from a pure literature point of view. If it wasn’t for the Bible, arguably Shakespeare wouldn’t have written those stories.”

Burnett predicted that The Bible, once you include home video and international sales, will eventually be seen by more viewers “than any of our other series combined over the next three decades.” It’s off to a good start — among the broadcast shows that The Bible out-performed among total audience last night was Burnett’s own All-Star Celebrity Apprentice premiere on NBC which returned to a disappointing 5.1 million viewers.

“We could not be more thrilled with this out of the gate success,” said Downey and Burnett in a statement. “The world is watching right now and we are incredibly humbled by the reaction to the series. This No. 1 series is a tribute to all those who have helped us to spread the Word. Ultimately The Bible will be seen and felt by billions around the globe …Today, more people are discussing God’s chosen people — Moses and Abraham — in one day than ever before.”

Also last night, History’s first scripted series Vikings delivered 6.2 million viewers for the premiere and 8.2 million for the night.

The Bible‘s strong ratings performance comes despite the project garnering some poor reviews from TV critics; EW’s own Darren Franich called The Bible a “cheesefest” in this week’s issue. What do you think of History’s big Bible numbers?

RELATED: EW’s 10 Best Bible Movies of All Time


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