History Channel's The Bible set a new DVD record for fastest-selling TV title released on home video in the last five years, and is now the fastest-selling miniseries ever. Why was this so successful? Is the Bible a secret ingredient to great TV? Is the Christian TV audience an untapped market? ...Or has it just been an unsuccessful one until now?
Jonathan Bock -- founder of Grace Hill Media, the PR firm that serves as middleman between the entertainment industry and the Church -- built the bridge that didn't seem to exist before. In the '90s, Bock worked at the publicity department at Warner Bros. during the production of My Dog Skip and The Green Mile. According to an interview with TIME, Bock said he told his boss people who go to church would probably really like those two movies. "You should hire some company that does outreach to pastors or calls Christian radio stations," he said. But there weren't any, so Bock started Grace Hill Media. And guess who marketed The Bible miniseries?
With this in mind, I set out to see what other religious -- Biblical, to be exact -- programming did well and why.
The History Channel
The miniseries sold over 500,000 units during the first week it was released on home video. It did better than Game of Thrones, True Blood, and The OfficeThe Bible trumps them all. That's definitely worth talking about.
But, first, let's take a step back: Why do people buy TV shows on DVDs anyway? Everything is online now. The only reason I'd buy a TV show DVD is to have something to do on a rainy day or when you're sick in bed and for some reason you'd rather get up from your couch every 6 episodes to switch DVDs than click your Apple TV remote. It's so difficult; I totally understand.
Personally speaking, I'd rather spend my sick days watching The Office to cheer me up, or maybe some sexy fantasy show about dragons or fairies. Beats watching Eve make the same mistake you've seen a thousand times. (It's a snake, Eve! What were you thinking!?) That, and the fact that if I watched a show about the Bible, I can imagine it'd end with me questioning my religion and existence. Not a good sick day at all. So, why are people buying these?!
Answer: I don't know.
Game Show Network
Think your Sunday School class and Double Dare, minus the annoying singing (but retaining the monetary prize). If you think this show is not for you because you're too cool for The Bible, think again. You're not that cool. Or maybe you are. I'm not here to judge. I'm here to tell you why this show has done so well for GSN.
In fact, it's the network's number one program OF ALL TIME, delivering 2.3 million total viewers. Can I get another 'what?!' The show is hosted by comedian Jeff Foxworthy (host of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?) and functions like other game shows. There's a buzzer, there are teams, you hit the buzzer and answer the question and if you get it wrong the other team gets a chance. They even have fun team names, like the "Gospel Geezers," and, as the NY Daily News puts it: "There's a lot more laughing and high-fiving than preaching."
The winners receive $25,000 to donate to their charity of choice.
So what can we assume after these two examples? People want family-friendly entertainment that's easy to digest. Sorry, True Blood.
VeggieTales is a series about anthropomorphic vegetables who retell Bible stories. Their most well-known adventure is probably Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, one of the Veggies' two full-length movies.
The production company behind the show, established by the show's creator Phil Vischer, has grown from a three-member staff to a staff of 200+, and has sold millions of video copies to Christian organizations and schools in the '90s. The show began in 1993, but didn't air on television until 2006-2010 when Qubo, Ion Television, and NBC picked it up. Why did so many networks want a piece of this show? Why did they want to reach out to a Christian audience? What do Christian audiences have that others don't!? I need to know!
Something to note: When airing the show, NBC elected to edit out most references to God, -- like the ending of every show where the Veggies say "Remember kids, God made you special and He loves you very much."
NBC removed the references so to open the show to a broader family-friendly audience, rather than just a Christian family-friendly one.
This cartoon was produced by Hanna-Barbera and told the story of three archeology majors who travel to Biblical times and witness stories from the Bible as they happened. Derek, Margo, and Moki were the highlight of my Fridays at the Christian elementary school I went to.
Co-creator Joe Barbera struggled to garner support for this show because Bill Hanna, apparently, didn't want in. After Hanna-Barbera was bought out by Time Warner, distribution of the show dissipated. And that's a shame, because this show was ahead of its time in combining Biblical stories with pop culture references in a Scooby Doo setting. #BBTGA:SFTB -- Bring back The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible. (Tweet it!)
Besides TGA:SFTB, these and other Christian shows have done extremely well considering they cater to such a specific audience. They're not high-brow, they're easy to digest, they're the same damn story you've heard a million times growing up so they're easy to follow, and -- most importantly -- they don't offend Christians.