3:07pm PT by Michael O'Connell
Mark Burnett Talks About "Mainstreaming" the Bible in 'A.D.' — and His Growing Beard
Mark Burnett and Roma Downey continue their string of lucrative projects about Christianity with NBC's A.D. this spring. The limited drama, a follow-up to History's The Bible, will play out over 12 episodes — but the married producers' penchant for religious material was not the first topic of conversation during their Television Critics Association panel on Friday. It was Burnett's beard.
The 54-year-old megaproducer has been cultivating long, rugged facial hair for the better part of the last year, and it now rivals most members of the Robertson clan on Duck Dynasty. The dramatic change of appearance prompted one reporter to ask if he was was planning to appear in a biblical fare moving forward. "He's the 13th disciple," offered one castmember.
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"I love it," Downey chimed in, mock-stroking her own face. "It really has made him a bit more contemplative. Sometimes I just see him lost in thought."
"I'm just lost," Burnett joked. "I'm waiting for a razor sponsor to call me."
In all seriousness, Downey and Burnett's religious-related output over the past few years has been significant. They've forged a new production company, received orders from multiple networks and even moved into theatrical features with Son of God and the upcoming Ben-Hur remake.
Burnett said that just a few years ago, people wondered if they'd "lost their minds" when they were plotting The Bible — which went on to break cable-ratings records. It has been quite a different scenario with A.D. "This is mainstream programming," he explained, describing the project thusly: "It's like taking House of Cards and dropping it into first-century Jerusalem."
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Liberties are taken in A.D. Burnett said that about 50 percent of the events of the series are pulled from scripture, with the remaining half a bit more muddy. "We colored in between the lines with what we think would have been going on," he said.
Joined onstage with a cast of African, South American and Irish actors, Burnett also spoke about making this latest spin on characters of the Bible more diverse. "We are thrilled with the current commentary in our industry, that we have a very diverse cast," he said, no doubt referencing Thursday's white-washed Oscar nominations. "This is a story that millions have died for and billions live for. We wanted it to reflect how the world looks, how America looks."
"We wanted people to be able to turn the television set on and see themselves in the story," added Downey. "I think we represent over 15 countries in the cast."