The History Channel tapped into an underserved market and came up with a blockbuster miniseries earlier this year in The Bible.  The rumors of a sequel understandably peaked after the reception of the original; Hollywood likes nothing more than Roman numerals after a title, which is a bit more ironic than usual in this case. This time, though, the sequel moves to NBC, which outbid The History Channel for the follow-up:

The Bible is making the jump from cable to network TV, as Comcast’s (CMCSA) NBC said it has struck a deal for a sequel to History’s surprise spring hit. NBC’s version will be titled A.D.: Beyond the Bible and will pick up after Christ’s death, though after that it’s pretty open.

An expensive and overtly religious production isn’t an obvious fit for a major network these days. Those channels today lean on talent-show TV, which doesn’t require high-paid actors and special effects. The Bible, though, comes with a massive built-in audience and a unique and powerful marketing machine. The 10-hour miniseries, produced by reality-TV king Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, won a huge following, in part by screening previews for religious leaders of U.S. megachurches. Before the première, some pastors even showed their flocks 90-minute making-of documentaries, while Christian groups bought ads in Times Square to tout the show.

Burnett and Downey tried to remain as faithful to the source material as possible, albeit not without some interesting flourishes — such as the martial-arts angels that kicked butt in Sodom and Gomorrah, for instance.  The installments in the first miniseries covered a few millenia between Abraham and the Resurrection, which meant a significant amount of narration and a telescoping of events.  Nevertheless, thanks to the dearth of Bible-based entertainment over the last several decades, Burnett and Downey found themselves a huge audience and an avalanche of gratitude from the faithful.

What isn’t clear is what the source material will be for another miniseries … and the title Beyond the Bible gives the impression that it’s going to be a lot less moored in Scripture than its predecessor.  The miniseries ended with Jesus’ ascension and the Pentecost, which is the end of the Gospels.  What’s next?  Acts, of course, and the letters of Paul, but the scope of the production will have to shrink dramatically between source and sequel.  Besides, those are actually in the Bible, not “beyond” it. Perhaps it’s a historical miniseries about the spread of Christianity, but based on what source material?

Erick Erickson has been having some fun speculating on an NBC version of the Bible:

If Burnett and Downey are still exec-producing the miniseries sequel, they have earned the benefit of the doubt.  If not, well, all bets are off.  At the very least, this purchase by NBC demonstrates that Hollywood has ignored a very lucrative market for a long time, and maybe Hollywood has started to figure that out.