Sunday night's airing of Killing Jesus -- the three-hour event based on the book of the same name by Fox News Channel anchor Bill O'Reilly and co-writer Martin Dugard -- was watched by more than 3.7 million people, a new record for the National Geographic Channel.
Of course, this isn't the first cable television adaptation of one of O'Reilly's books. Two others -- Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln – were also produced for the cable channel and drew high ratings as well.
According to an article by Lisa de Morales for the Deadline.com website, “Killing Kennedy nabbed 3.4 million viewers in its November 2013 launch, and Killing Lincoln had clocked 3.35 million in February of 2013."
Before the Killing franchise came its way, “the channel's largest crowd came way back in August of 2005 with Inside 9/11, which had logged an initial 3 million,” she stated.
“The channel noted that the 8 p.m. premiere’s 1.0 rating in adults [from the important demographic of viewers 25 to 54 years of age] is the highest rating for that demo since the net’s November 2013 premiere of O’Reilly’s Killing Kennedy,” de Morales noted, “which clocked a 1.1, and 300 percent higher than National Geographic's Sunday 8-11 p.m. average this calendar year.”
The story, which “chronicled the events leading up to the death of one of the most influential figures in history, Jesus Christ,” came from the book that was released in September 2013 and has sold more than 6.8 million copies.
O'Reilly's two previous Killing books also fared well, selling more than one million copies each.
Translating a book into a movie is always a big challenge, but Killing Jesus boasted an impressive cast.
Perhaps the most interesting selection was putting Haaz Sleiman, a Muslim actor, into the role of Jesus. Kelsey Grammer played King Herod the Great, while Stephen Moyer was Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who literally “washed his hands” of putting Jesus to death.
Also appearing in the film were Rufus Sewell as Caiaphas, a high priest; Emmanuelle Chriqui as Herodias, a princess of the Herodian Dynasty in Judea; Eoin Macken as Antipas, the bishop of Pergamon who became a “faithful martyr;” and John Rhys Davies as Annas, another high priest.
One sure sign of a movie's success is the decision to air it several times, and with the Easter holiday almost here, Killing Jesus will air often. On Monday night, the film debuted on the National Geographic Mundo American cable channel and is set to be shown in 171 countries around the world.
Also, the Fox News Channel will repeat the three-hour film at 8 and 11 p.m. on Good Friday (April 3) and again on Easter Sunday (April 5).
Sunday night’s numbers were also good news for the National Geographic Channel's new series The Big Picture With Kal Penn, which debuted on Monday night, and Neil deGrasse’s new late-night talk show StarTalk, which will premiere on April 20. Both shows were promoted heavily during the Killing Jesus premiere.
While many reviews were positive, The Guardian’s Selina O'Grady called Killing Jesus “a breathy retelling of the gospel stories by two conservative Catholics, one of whom, O’Reilly, believes that he was inspired to write the book by the Holy Ghost,” a claim he made several times on The O'Reilly Factor weeknight program and defended during a number of TV interviews.
Meanwhile, O'Reilly on Monday evening stated that the film's record-breaking success “is very bad news for the secular progressive movement, which sees Christian expositions as a threat to their political agenda.”
He then discussed what he called “phony critiques floating around designed to promote ideology above all” including the New York Times, which he said “denigrated the movie by directing its readers to a critic who says the gospels in the Bible are 'myths and legends.'”
“How insulting is that?” the host asked. “The only myth in play here is that the New York Times is an objective source of information.”
The three-hour rerun will face an interesting challenge on Easter Sunday, when executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey will follow up their series The Bible -- which has been seen by more than 100 million people and sold more than 1 million copies on DVD and Blu Ray -- with A.D.: The Bible Continues, which will air at 9 p.m. and pick up just after the wildly popular series ended.
It's a pleasure to actually watch Scripture-based television produced by Christians and not Hollywood executives who never bother to crack open a Bible before pouring millions of dollars into projects that merely display their ignorance of the subject matter.