×

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.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • Peter Weber and Mike Johnson

    'The Bachelor's' Mike Johnson on Diversity and New Leading Man Peter Weber

    ABC named its newest star of “The Bachelor” this week, officially making Peter Weber the leading man for Season 24 of the long-running dating show. Social media backlash ensued following the announcement due to ABC’s selection lacking diversity, yet again. Since the dating franchise began in 2002, there has been only one “Bachelorette” of color [...]

  • ABC Studios Logo

    ABC Studios Head of Alternative Fernando Hernandez Exits

    ABC Studios’ head of alternative Fernando Hernandez has departed from his post at the Disney-owned television studio, a source familiar with the situation told Variety. The Hollywood Reporter first reported the news. Hernandez’s exit follows an executive shuffling at the top in recent months that has included the departure of Amy Hartwick, ABC Studio’s head [...]

  • Rob Cowan, Greg Silverman'The Conjuring 2'

    Greg Silverman’s Stampede, School of Rock Team for Unscripted Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Former president of Warner Bros. Pictures Greg Silverman is partnering with School of Rock through his content creation company Stampede. The collaboration with the music school will create exclusive content, starting with the development of an unscripted series.  School of Rock operates a network of performance-based education franchises that offer students of all ages guidance [...]

  • TV Roundup: Erica Durance Reprises 'Smallville'

    TV News Roundup: Erica Durance Reprises 'Smallville' Role in 'Arrowverse' Crossover

    In today’s TV news roundup, Erica Durance reprises her “Smallville” role in the CW’s annual “Arrowverse” crossover, and Showtime shares with Variety an exclusive sneak peek at the return of “The Circus.” FIRST LOOKS “2020 is the most important election of our lifetime,” Alex Wagner says in a new trailer for the fourth season of [...]

  • Patrick Whitesell and Ari Emanuel WME

    Endeavor Targets Sept. 27 for Stock Debut, IPO Video Tells Company's Origin Story

    After years of preparation, Endeavor is set to make its formal Wall Street debut on Sept. 27, when its stock will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Endeavor has targeted Sept. 26 for the final pricing of its shares. The stock will trade publicly the following day. Earlier this week, Endeavor said its [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content