The highly anticipated series A.D.: The Bible Continues drew an impressive 9.5 million viewers on its Easter Sunday premiere, proving that there is indeed a massive audience hungry for faith-based programming.
According to Variety, A.D.'s first episode, which focused primarily on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was night's top-rated program, making it the highest-rating premiere since 2011.
In 2013, Downey her husband, Mark Burnett, shocked Hollywood with the success of their 10 hour miniseries, The Bible, which featured the life of Christ leading up to His resurrection. The series, which aired on the History Channel, grossed $60 million domestically and averaged over 11 million viewers per episode--by far the biggest in the cable network's history.
"People are hungry for stories of faith. People are hungry for hope," Downey said of show's massive success. "They're hungry for connection to each other, a connection to God. The Bible is such a wealth of stories. It has all the ingredients. It's exciting, and it's alive."
In turn, A.D., which airs on NBC, begins where The Bible left off and then explores the early years of the new Christian church as documented in the Gospels and by historians from the period. Last night's premiere largely covered the political and personal reaction to Jesus being crucified in addition to displaying the disciples' fear of being killed in the same manner as Christ.
"With A.D. The Bible Continues, we have been able to use the death of Jesus as the starting point because really it's the journey of what happens next," Downey told The Hollywood Reporter. "It was a moment that changed the world - it changed world history. ... It had resounding impact."
Thanks to a strong cast, compelling writing and impressive cinematography, A.D.: The Bible Continues is indisputably entertaining. But even more importantly, the series doesn't diverge from the Biblical account of Jesus' life, death, and legacy--a strong indicator the show will resonate with faith-based audiences.
"We believe A.D. is going to be a mega-hit," Faith Driven Consumer founder Chris Stone said in a recent press release. "It has the potential to be the most successful faith-based TV franchise in history."
"Tell the story in a way that is consistent with the biblical narrative and message and give it the highest production value possible," Stone said. "A.D. will prove this point, and NBC will reap the rewards for respecting the audience and getting it right."
While the story is Biblically-centered, both Burnett and Downey believe the show will continue to appeal to audiences outside Christianity.
"It's a story of faith and of courage and I don't think that you have to be of Christian faith to enjoy this story. It's a broad story and we're excited that it's on broadcast," Downey told THR. "We're so grateful to NBC and our partnership with them that on Easter Sunday, the day of the resurrection, people will be able to gather around their television sets and experience the story together."