LOS ANGELES, March 21 (UPI) -- NBC is describing its upcoming miniseries "Revelations" as a fictional thriller, but the subject matter -- the end of the world as foretold in the Bible -- is something that a good many viewers are likely to take quite seriously.
"Revelations" -- produced by Paul Rabwin ("The X-Files") and Anne Tabor ("My Wife and Kids") -- is a six-hour miniseries scheduled to premiere April 13. It was written by David Seltzer, whose credits include the 2002 Kevin Costner supernatural drama "Dragonfly" and the 1976 Gregory Peck supernatural horror classic "The Omen."
Interest in religious themes has been strong enough to propel books such as "The Da Vinci Code" and the "Left Behind" series and movies such as "The Passion of the Christ," to mega-hit status. In a conference call with entertainment reporters, Seltzer said "Revelations" should benefit from public fascination with the notion that world events might indicate that Armageddon is near.
"People are very nervous as to where they're heading and, for the sake of their children and their children's children, they think it's time to explore their relationship to the hereafter and the now," said Seltzer, "and really determine whether or not ... there is a part that mankind can play at this time to forestall the nuclear bubble breaking and the world coming to an end."
Seltzer said 2005 is the latest in any number of periods in history when people have become preoccupied with the Apocalypse.
"Today we're looking at 35 wars going on in the world, any one of which could become a flashpoint that would end our lives," he said. "And with all the geological, social and political events lining up to what the Book of Revelations says are the end of days, it is time to start taking it seriously."
At the same time, Seltzer suggested that if the miniseries clicks with viewers -- and humanity has any time left on Earth -- he expects NBC would bring back "Revelations" for more installments.
"If it gets a good rating, as businessmen they're obligated to turn out more," he said.
The popularity of faith-based entertainment is such that one woman -- Karen Heimbuch, an ordained minister of the Foursquare Gospel -- has memorized the book of Revelation and has gone on tour, reciting it to a recorded soundtrack performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Heimbuch has performed "The Revelation" on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and at numerous churches -- and Revelation Media has released the performance on CD.
Peter Lalonde and his brother Paul Lalonde have been more or less specializing in end-times movie and TV projects since they formed the Cloud Ten production company in 1996. Among their projects have been adaptations of several of the best-selling "Left Behind" books by authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.
Paul Lalonde told United Press International a number of factors have come together to form what he called a critical mass of public interest in faith-based entertainment. He said the success of the "Left Behind" books translated into box-office success for the first "Left Behind" movie, which in turn became a top-selling DVD.
"Then along come 'The Passion of the Christ,'" said Lalonde from Toronto, where he and his company have just finished filming on "Left Behind: World War III."
"One of the complaints of the conservative Christian worldview is that the world, America, is going more liberal," said Lalonde. "But when (consumers) stood up and spoke this time it showed there is still a huge divide in this country, and studios noticed."
Seltzer said "Revelations" would not cover the same ground as the "Left Behind" books have -- tribulation, followed by the rapture.
"We are in no way following a fundamentalist track," he said.
In the NBC miniseries, Bill Pullman plays a physicist who joins forces with a nun to try to head off the approaching Apocalypse. He was asked about the potential that some viewers might be offended by the way the show treats sensitive religious issues.
"There's all kinds of religious people," he said. "I guess there's probably always going to be people offended, but there's a core of people who understand that the story is coming from a kind of questioning rather than giving answers."
While the stakes are obviously high for the characters in "Revelations," NBC also has quite a lot riding on the project. The Los Angeles Times recently noted that the miniseries is hardly designed to attract the kinds of viewers that NBC used to count on to make it the No.1 network -- affluent young professionals in big cities who tuned in to such comedies as "Friends" and "Will & Grace."
The paper noted that network's ratings have fallen 14 percent this season among young adults -- the demographic segment that advertisers most covet.
NBC has programmed religious fare in the past -- including the Michael Landon hit "Highway to Heaven" from 1984-89 -- but NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly downplayed the religious nature of "Revelations."
"Ultimately, this is a fictional thriller," he told the Times.
The show is already taking hits from the religious community. The Times reported that Fred Schmidt, a religious scholar at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, thinks that many fundamentalist Christians will be offended by the show -- which he says presents a "minority view" that current events portend the coming Apocalypse.
Schmidt said he based his analysis on plot summaries that have appeared in the media. Seltzer said Schmidt has a mistaken notion of what is in the show, and may change his mind if he sees it.
"He may still feel challenged and challenge us in return but we really do welcome that," said Seltzer. "Once he is informed I really would love to hear what he has to say and have a dialogue with him."
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