(RNS) The world’s best-selling book has made it to the small screen in what is thought to be the first religiously themed game show on a secular network.
“The American Bible Challenge” tests teams’ knowledge of the Old and New Testaments in a quiz show interspersed with stories of the competitors and the charities they play for.
The show represents a bid to tap the religious market by the secular GSN (formerly Game Show Network). The base audience is evangelicals, said consulting producer Maura Dunbar, but she hopes it will appeal to a broader audience, including nonbelievers.
“I think people of faith will have a very good comfort level, and I think this is an opportunity for all of us to hopefully open up the Bible to new audiences and engagement,” Dunbar said.
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy, coming from Fox’s quiz show, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?,” will host the Bible challenge. Foxworthy describes himself as a Christian, and details attending Bible study with friends on the American Bible Challenge website.
The show tests biblical knowledge in culture, history, literature and current events. In one segment, players try to differentiate “the Word of the Lord” from “the Lord of the Rings” and identify whether a character comes from the Bible or Star Wars.
“We find ways to open up the biblical word to references that I think make it easy to relate to,” Dunbar said. “We had fun with the content, never poking fun at the content.”
Dunbar is chief content officer of Odyssey Networks, which co-produces the show and has produced Hallmark Channel films based on Christian novels like Angela Hunt’s “The Note” and Beverly Lewis’ “The Shunning.”
The show brings together the religious message of the multifaith Odyssey Networks, the storytelling of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” producer Tom Forman, and the technical expertise of Embassy Row, which produced “The Glee Project” and “The Newlywed Game.”
Religion-themed television can be a gamble for networks.
ABC canceled “GCB,” after its unpopular inaugural season. Based on the novel “Good Christian Bitches” by Kim Gatlin, the show garnered controversy for its title and raunchy depictions of Christian women.
National Geographic Channel’s “American Colony: Meet the Hutterites,” was accused of exploiting the Montana Anabaptist faith community, first by Hutterites outside the colony, and later by colony leaders.
But some shows with religious themes have staying power. Episodes of “7th Heaven,” a show about a family with a minister father, spanned a decade.
Producers face an interesting challenge in creating a Christian game show for an American audience.
A 2010 Pew survey found atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons showed the highest levels of overall religious knowledge in the United States.
Mormons scored highest on specific biblical knowledge, followed by white evangelical Protestants, atheists and agnostics, black Protestants, and Jews. White mainline Protestants and Catholics scored the lowest.
A poll by the American Bible Society – which sponsors the show – found 85 percent of Americans own a Bible. About one-quarter read the Bible several times a week or every day. However, the same percentage never reads it. The majority reads the Bible less than once a month.
Readers of the New International Version (NIV) translation might want to play along – it’s the official Bible of the show.
Viewers can catch “The American Bible Challenge” Thursdays at 8 p.m. on GSN.