Jesus is a hot commodity. At least three networks — CNN, National Geographic and NBC — are banking on Christians tuning in during the holy season of Lent and on Easter Sunday to watch their varied presentations on the Son of God.
First on deck is CNN's original series, "Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery," scheduled to air Sunday, March 1 at 9 p.m. E.T.
As explained by CNN:
Loved and worshipped by billions, Jesus of Nazareth is, unquestionably, the most famous person of the last 2,000 years. His influence on culture, politics, education and literature continues to this day. But he left no physical trace. Or did he? That's the question at the forefront of "Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery."
The series features the latest scientific and archaeological research along with a first-class panel of contributors who will provide expert commentary and investigate the authenticity of six objects which could shed new light on Jesus.
What are those six objects the CNN program promises to explore? According to the book behind the series, Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery.: Six Holy Objects That Tell the Remarkable Story of the Gospels, those key items include the supposed remains of John the Baptist. The baptizer's remains were reportedly found amid the ruins of a Bulgarian church in 2010.
Another item to be explored, judging by the contents of the book Finding Jesus, is the burial box that would have allegedly contained the bones of one of Jesus' siblings. On one side of the ossuary, revealed in 2002 to be in the possession of an Israeli man, is the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."
"Finding Jesus" premieres on the first Sunday of Lent for Orthodox Christians (other Christians begin the holy season on Feb. 18), and the multi-part series will air six one-hour episodes through Easter Sunday, April 5.
Up next, on March 29 (Palm Sunday), is National Geographic Channel's "Killing Jesus." The production is based on the bestselling book written by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. National Geographic has found successes in television adaptations of O'Reilly and Dugard's two other books, Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln. Those projects were the two most-watched programs in National Geographic Channel's history.
The network says of "Killing Jesus:"
It's a story nearly the whole world knows, with more than 2.2 billion people around the globe following the teachings and principles of Jesus of Nazareth. But the intimate historical details of his life and the political collusions that led to his brutal demise bring intriguing context to the familiar story.
This spring, National Geographic Channel's KILLING JESUS … dives deep inside the historical story of how Jesus' message and preachings led to his persecution and execution by a group of conspirators who saw him as a threat to their power.
The "three-hour television event" airs at 8 p.m. ET in the U.S., and will be accessible to viewers in 171 countries and in 45 languages. "Killing Jesus" will also air in Spanish on Nat Geo Mundo.
There are numerous notable names attached to the project, including Kelsey Grammer (King Herod the Great), Stephen Moyer (Pontius Pilate), Rufus Sewell (Caiaphas), and Executive Producers Ridley Scott and David W. Zucker.
"A.D.: THE BIBLE CONTINUES"
Rounding out the trio of upcoming Jesus productions is "A.D.: The Bible Continues," the latest project from executive producers and husband and wife Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. "A.D." picks up where 2013's multi-part blockbuster TV production "The Bible" left off.
The immediate aftermath of Christ's death had a massive impact on his disciples, his mother, Mary, and key political and religious leaders of the era, completely altering the entire world in an instant. Beginning at that fateful moment of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, "A.D. The Bible Continues" will focus on the disciples who had to go forward and spread the teachings of Christ to a world dominated by political unrest, and the start of a whole new religion that would dramatically reshape the history of the world.
"A.D." premieres April 5, Easter Sunday at 9 p.m. E.T.
BANKING ON JESUS
Christian viewers have shown in recent years that they are more than willing to tune in, and shell out cash at movie theaters, for projects based on the Bible.
History (previously The History Channel) found that out in 2013 when the cable network ran "The Bible" series. The five-part miniseries brought the network record ratings (more than 100 million viewers tuned in), was a top-seller across Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital HD formats, and was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards.
Perhaps CNN, National Geographic Channel and NBC will have similar successes. But with so many Jesus-related projects premiering in such a short period of time and on some of their biggest holy days, some Christians might simply choose to tune out — or turn to any of the classic Bible-inspired movies that reliably air at this time of the year ("The Ten Commandments," "King of Kings," "The Greatest Story Ever Told").