A.D.'s Mark Burnett: His Recipe For Success – Hope 103.2

A.D.’s Mark Burnett: His Recipe For Success

You may not know the name Mark Burnett, but there’s little doubt that you’ll be familiar with his work, which is all over Australian TV right now.

By Clare BruceWednesday 29 Jul 2015Guests and ArtistsReading Time: 4 minutes

You may not know the name Mark Burnett, but there’s little doubt that you’ll be familiar with his work, which is all over Australian TV right now.

Mark Burnett and Roma Downey

He’s the brains behind Channel Nine’s top-rating The Voice, Channel Ten’s Shark Tank, and the new Bible-based TV Series A.D. Kingdom And Empire, airing Sunday nights on Nine.

A man of deep Christian faith, the influential producer has built his career on one kind of television: family-friendly.

The Secret Behind His Phenomenal TV Success

Wholesome, uplifting viewing has been Marks’ recipe for success for years, also inspiring shows such as Survivor, The Apprentice, and Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?

His wife, Roma Downey, who starred in the highly popular 1990s TV series Touched By An Angel, is another of his secret ingredients.

Together the couple created the phenomenally successful show The Bible:The Epic Miniseries, which attracted 100 million viewers.

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Their latest offering, AD: Kingdom And Empire (titled AD: The Bible Continues in the USA), presents the drama-rich the first 10 chapters of the Bible’s book of Acts.

Story-Telling A Magic Ingredient

Mark spoke to Hope Media when the 12-part series was still in its production phase.

He said its storyline, the birth of the early Christian church, was compelling by all accounts, forming another element of his TV success: great stories.

In all of his reality shows, story plays a big role, whether it is the relationship-under-pressure story of a Survivor contestant, or the troubled-kid-makes-good story of an entrant on The Voice.

Mark considers the Bible to be the source of the best stories around.

“Its an amazing story to think that there are 11 men left – 11 apostles left after Judas killed himself,” he said. “How on earth did 11 men become 2.2 billion? It’s a great story.”

Stories portrayed in the series include the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the dramas of leaders such as Pontius Pilate, Caiaphis, the Roman Emperor Augustus and his nephew Caligula.

It also tells the dramatic tales of the first martyr Stephen, Simon the sorcerer, Phillip and the Ethiopian believer he baptised on the roadside, and the extremist Christian-killer Saul and his conversion – after which he became known as Paul.

Sharing The Bible Hard Work, But A Passion

In a promotional video, Roma said making the A.D. series was a labour of love.

“This was more than a job for us, it was a passion for us to work on this together,” she said. “We love this period of history. We are believers so we love telling the story of faith. It’s such a dramatic time.”

The pair worked with scholars and dramatic writers to make sure the screenplay contained the right balance of correct Biblical narrative and screenworthy drama.

The One Scene An Actor Can Never Forget

Another ingredient for on-screen success is choosing the right actors, and the Bible-loving producers seem to be getting that right.

Diogo Morgado played Jesus in The Bible series, while in A.D., God’s son is played by 35-year-old Argentinian actor Juan Pablo Di Pace.

“It’s a difficult role to cast, to find someone who can present themselves with the right amount of strength and beauty and compassion,” Roma said of the casting, in an ET Online interview. “And we found him in Juan Pablo.”

Juan Pablo Di Pace grew up around the church and his mother is a religious artist, who has works hanging in the Vatican.

He told ET Online that he “cried like a baby” when he received the script for the revered role.

“The crucifixion scene — I’ll take that to my grave,” he said, “because it was such an iconic moment for my life.”

“To be standing up there and have the vantage point of being on the cross as Him — everything was so real. The only thing that wasn’t real was the camera flying around. Everything else was like being there.”

Watch: Juan Pablo Di Pace on playing the role of Jesus

As for the role of Jesus’ mother Mary, that is played by Aussie-Italian Greta Scacchi.

The Importance Of Not Preaching

The ambitious series has been described as House of Cards-meets-Game of Thrones-meets-the Bible, which is partly a testament to its production values; it looks like many of high-quality shows we’re used to on prime-time TV.

Mark Burnet told the Christian Post that it is respectful to both believers and non-believers – “so people are not going to feel preached to”.

Herein lies another of the producer’s secrets to success: remaining relatable.

“It is not our mission to preach to people,” he said.

Bible Stories A Sure Fire Hit For TV Industry

The Burnett-Downey pair head up the production companies LightWorkers Media and United Artists Media Group, which employ 2,500 people to work on their many screen productions.

As well as Reality TV shows and Biblical dramas, they’ve now branched into the big screen, with last year’s movie Son of God and a remake of the classic film Ben-Hur in production for a 2016 release.

Mark told The Washington Post that there was a big market for Bible-based productions.

“This is our faith and this is also the nation’s; 150 million people go to church in [the USA],” he said. “This is their story and it is great to tell it in a fresh way on network TV.”

A.D.: Kingdom And Empire has had mixed reviews from critics, but did rank in Australia’s top 20 most-watched shows in its first two weeks.

It attracted 814,000 viewers to its first episode on July 5, and the audience climbed to 842,000 in the second week. It has since fallen from the top 20 listing.

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