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CBS plans Pope John Paul II miniseries

Network getting guidance from Vatican on project
/ Source: Reuters

CBS television has given producers the go-ahead for a big-budget miniseries charting the life of the late Pope John Paul II, with guidance from the Vatican, the network said Thursday.

The four-hour, fact-based drama, tentatively titled “Pope John Paul II,” will chronicle the story of Karol Wojtyla from his youth in Poland through his more than 26-year reign as head of the Roman Catholic Church.

The program is being made by the producers behind the network’s hit miniseries “Jesus,” which aired several years ago and starred Jeremy Sisto in the title role and Debra Messing from the TV sitcom “Will & Grace” as Mary Magdalene.

No casting decisions on the pope project had been made, a CBS spokesman said. Principal production was set to begin in Rome in midsummer, with the miniseries expected to premiere as early as the fall.

The script was written under the supervision of the Vatican, which also granted producers access to exclusive footage for the program in and around St. Peter’s Square, said CBS, which is owned by media conglomerate Viacom Inc .

“We’re really doing this on a large scale,” Bela Bajaria, senior network vice president for movies and miniseries, told the entertainment trade publication The Hollywood Reporter. ”It’s a fascinating story.”

The CBS miniseries is not the first TV dramatization of John Paul’s life. A film about his early years, “Karol: The Man Who Became Pope,” aired on Italian television in April, less than a month after the pontiff’s death.

The upcoming papal biography on CBS, the most-watched U.S. television network, comes amid a recent flurry of religion-themed programming on American television, inspired partly by the runaway box office success last year of Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ.”