‘The Bible’ on Fox News Channel? It almost happened


If Rupert Murdoch had gotten his way, the miniseries “The Bible” might very well have ended up airing on the Fox News Channel instead of the History channel, where it was a huge hit.

Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corp., was hot for “The Bible” as soon as he heard about it from Mark Burnett, the reality TV king (“Survivor,” “The Apprentice”) who made the miniseries with wife Roma Downey and Hearst Entertainment. Although Hearst co-owns History, “The Bible” was pitched elsewhere first and Murdoch was the first to raise his hand for the event program.

Figuring out which News Corp. outlet would carry “The Bible” proved difficult at first. Fox was ruled out because finding space for the 10-hour event was too challenging. The network would likely not have wanted to preempt its popular Sunday night animation lineup for several weeks for a religious miniseries. “American Idol” eats up Wednesday and Thursday. Monday is no good since the gory drama “The Following” resides there. Fox is trying to make Tuesday a comedy night. That left Friday and Saturday, and those nights don’t typically are not big TV nights.


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The cable channel FX was not in the mix because “The Bible” didn’t fit in with that network’s brand and reputation as a place for edgy envelope-pushing shows such as “Sons of Anarchy” and “Louie.”

The surprise solution was Fox News. Although on the surface an entertainment series might seem out of place on a news and talk channel, there was a school of thought that “The Bible” could play well there. Fox News has an older and more conservative audience that was seen as a good fit for “The Bible.” Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes caught Murdoch’s enthusiasm and a plan was hatched to run it there on Sundays with a second run of “The Bible” planned for News Corp.'s National Geographic Channel.

Hammering out a final pact proved to be even more of a challenge for News Corp. than finding a home for the series was. Although Murdoch had already made an informal offer for “The Bible,” the team at News Corp.'s entertainment arm tasked with sealing the deal balked at the terms. Money wasn’t the only issue. Burnett and Downey’s desire to hold onto international rights and have final cut over the miniseries also proved to be a stumbling block.

The TV deal collapsed, but Murdoch and News Corp. didn’t come away empty-handed. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment secured the rights to distribute DVDs of “The Bible.” More than half a million have been sold — and it’s been available for only a little more than a week. Typically, a distributor gets a 10% to 15% cut of total sales.

News Corp. wasn’t the only one who missed out on “The Bible.” TLC, the cable network owned by Discovery Communications, also passed. David Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery, was initially hot for “The Bible,” but others inside the company were not convinced it would be a hit. Discovery also wanted foreign rights, and Burnett and Downey wouldn’t budge on that.

At that point, History jumped in and agreed to give the couple final cut and foreign rights. The rest, as they say, is history.


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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.


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