The Bible is the ambitious project taken on by reality TV wizard Mark Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey, that dramatizes the Bible in a 10-hour miniseries that began airing on the History Channel Sunday night.

Burnett, whose accomplishments on the big screen include Survivor, The Voice, The Apprentice and Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader, may have seemed like an unlikely candidate to oversee such a project. However, after wife Downey presented the idea to him, the producer came to the conclusion that, as a team, they were up to the task. Therefore, 3 1/2 years ago the husband/wife duo began compiling the 66 books of the Old Testament and New Testament in a retelling of the Holy Book that would make for quality television.

Burnett and Downey were both raised Catholic and continue to attend Mass regularly near their home in Los Angeles. Growing up with Biblical films like The Ten Commandments and The Greatest Story Ever Told, they felt that it was time for a new take on the Bible with the added benefit of technology, including CGI. “It was time for an updating. Adding fresh visual life to a sacred text,” Burnett told CNN. “People have great hearts and great knowledge but no experience of filmmaking and no budgets,” Burnett said of past attempts of recreating the stories.

In addition to their dedication to their faith and access to modern advances in filming, Burnett believes his success in reality TV was an asset. “Based on viewership, maybe I should be giving a few lessons to the people who are doing stories. Because we have five nights of No. 1 wins on prime-time television,” he stated. “As a family we’ve made over 2,000 hours of American television and 8,000 worldwide.” Furthermore, the sheer size of production for Survivor – hundreds of cast and crew members, helicopters, boats, etc. – made him uniquely capable of pulling off the great narrative of the Bible.

Perhaps wisely distancing themselves from celebrity, Burnett and Downey cast the film with actors mostly unknown to American audiences – although Downey (Touched by an Angel) takes on the role of Mother Mary in the series. Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado plays Jesus, and many of the other prominent characters are taken on by actors from London’s West End. With only ten hours with which to work with, they also had to make the tough call of allowing each hour to tell its own story, or have them flow as one large narrative. They opted for the latter, which necessitated the project to take creative liberties. A public relations manager for the Bible refers to the liberties as “extra-biblical but not contra-biblical,” reported CNN. The approach of combining all of these complex stories into 10 hours created what amounted to the “Bible’s greatest hits,” according to The New York TimesNeil Genzlinger, and he didn’t mean it as a positive.

The most impressive feat by Burnett and Downey, at least according to them, was keeping their marriage in tact throughout the grueling process of completing the project. “It’s been a great fun journey right, Roma?” Burnett asked his wife.

“And we’re still talking to each other,” Downey replied.

Check out the trailer for “The Bible” below:

Read more about: