Industry Pros Talk Script, Story and ‘Virtue-tainment’ at Variety Purpose Summit

As inspirational features such as “Heaven Is for Real” and top-rated television efforts like History channel’s “The Bible” and NBC’s “A.D.: The Bible Continues” grow even more popular, it has become clear to the industry that faith-based programming has eclipsed the “niche” rubric and become an engine for both quality storytelling and significant viewership.

For many in the faith-based industry, including executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the future of programming hinges on producers’ ability to deliver content that is both authentic to the beliefs of viewers and entertaining.

“If you’re making something called ‘The Bible,’ for American television, the biggest audience on Earth, you’d better get it right,” says Burnett who, along with Downey, are keynote speakers at this year’s Purpose Summit. “There is a large audience for faith-based material, and they can spot in a second if you aren’t being authentic.”

“It’s being truthful to the text and keeping out negative commentary that seems disrespectful to people of faith,” Downey adds.

At the same time, says Maura Dunbar, exec VP and chief content officer of Odyssey Networks — which produces faith-based entertainment — successful product just can’t be “a tool (for) the ministry to galvanize audiences with specific teaching opportunities that can then be relayed into classrooms and so forth.”

Downey, a speaker on the Redemptive TV on the Rise panel at the Purpose Summit, concurs. “We have loved this journey to breathe life into these stories, and I think they’ve been well acted and well written, and not just Sunday school material,” she says.

Maintaining that axis of authenticity and quality storytelling has yielded impressive results. “The Bible” was seen by 100 million cumulative viewers and is the biggest selling TV title on DVD in the past five years, while Sony’s “Heaven Is for Real,” made for $12 million, generated $101 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

“The bar has been raised for entertainment in 2015,” says Purpose Summit keynote speaker Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures, who was instrumental in bringing Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” to theaters. “As the marketplace for faith-based content gets bigger, you attract talented people who have not been (previously) involved in (it). The potential to generate substantial revenue from this material attracts a bigger pool of people, which generates more ideas. And from those ideas, you get better and more successful entertainment offerings.”

Stronger faith-based content may even reach a more diversified demographic of viewers.

“Hollywood needs to look at the significant impact millennials have on programming,” adds Dunbar. “They are a movement that is less concerned with quoting Bible verses than living out their faith in the context of an authentic experience in a community with others. “Ultimately, I would say that we make ‘virtue-tainment,’ stories that relate back to virtue or values, which go all the way back to Aristotle and Plato. That’s where the millennials are going.”

More TV

  • La Unidad

    Movistar Plus Pitches ‘La Unidad’ Digitally to International Buyers

    MADRID  —  Telefonica’s Movistar Plus was set to show off a pair of dramas at this year’s MipTV before the market was canceled. Now, Movistar has prepared online presentations on Monday where it will screen episodes of both series as well as conversations with producers and creatives from both series. Each show focus on terrorist [...]

  • La Linea Invisible

    Movistar Presents New Drama ‘La Linea Invisible’ to Virtual Marketplace

    MADRID – Originally planned to premiere alongside fellow Movistar Plus Original “La Unidad” at this year’s MipTV, “La Línea Invisible” will now instead screen for international buyers digitally in an online showcase hosted by the Spanish broadcaster on Monday. From “What the Future Holds” creator Mariano Barroso (“The Wolves of Washington”), the six-part series is [...]

  • John Callahan

    John Callahan, 'All My Children' Soap Opera Star, Dies at 66

    John Callahan, a soap opera star on “All My Children,” died on Saturday morning after suffering a stroke at his Palm Springs, Calif., home on Friday. He was 66. “Your bigger than life, gregarious personality will leave a hole in our hearts forever. We are devastated–my great friend, co-parent partner, and loving father to Kaya,” [...]

  • Cardi B Joe Exotic

    Cardi B Pledges to Start a GoFundMe for Joe Exotic From Netflix's 'Tiger King'

    Cardi B, like most people in the world, is hooked on Netflix’s “Tiger King.” Over the past couple of days, Cardi has been tweeting about the new docu-series, which follows the bizarre story of Joe Exotic, a private zoo owner with hundreds of exotic animals who ends up in jail for hiring a hitman to [...]

  • Victorious

    Ariana Grande and the 'Victorious' Cast Celebrate 10 Year Anniversary on Zoom

    Nickelodeon fans’ dreams came true when the cast of “Victorious” reunited to celebrate the show’s debut 10 years ago. Ariana Grande, Victoria Justice and their co-stars were supposed to get together in person to commemorate the anniversary, but due to the shelter-in-place rules around the country, the cast all hopped on a Zoom call. Grande [...]

  • Tiger King

    'Tiger King': Where Everyone in the Series Is Now

    (Warning: Spoilers ahead. Do not watch if you haven’t seen all seven episodes of Netflix’s “Tiger King.”) Like a stealthy tiger padding through the jungle, no one saw Netflix’s “Tiger King” coming until it was too late to un-see the questionable conditions the animals were kept in, and the questionable taste in tattoos of nearly [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content