LOS ANGELES - As a kid 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 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 be shown 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 and the Ark to Exodus to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Shooting is planned for the Middle East and elsewhere.
Burnett said he and Downey (who starred in a different look at faith, the fantasy series Touched by an Angel) had been working on the project for two years. Both grew up with Scriptures, he in England and she in Northern Ireland, but they aren't on a mission, 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 great literature and its characters is rooted in the book.
The cable channel, which has done religious-focused projects since it debuted, was looking for a worthy follow-up to the 12-hour series America: The Story of Us, 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 History and its 150-country reach, Dubuc said.
The Bible is among the channel's biggest ventures, she said, declining to detail the budget.
History, which had partnered with Burnett on Expedition Africa, had a series of talks with him about his wish to explore the Bible and his approach, 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 is using the New International Version, the translation preferred by evangelical Christian leaders, and the New Revised Standard Version, Dubuc said. A committee of theologians and scholars is being assembled to consult on the series.
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 mini-series offers rare depth and the chance to create a "legacy" project, said Burnett, 50, whose credits also include the new singing contest The Voice and the Emmy Awards ceremony.
"I could be 80 or 90 and it could still be on television," he said of The Bible.
This year History stumbled with another major project, the controversial, multimillion-dollar mini-series The Kennedys. The channel decided not to telecast it, saying it had concluded the "dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand." The mini-series was shown in April on ReelzChannel.