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 / Updated  / Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

When producer Mark Burnett and wife Roma Downey first pitched a television series based around the Bible two years ago, they admitted the reception wasn't exactly promising.

"When we brought 'The Bible' series two years ago to the History Channel, I think many people thought we had lost our minds and that no one would watch,'' Downey told Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb on TODAY Wednesday.

"The Bible" went on to become the highest-rated series of 2013 with more than 100 million viewers. Now Downey and Burnett, known for his work as the producer of the hit "Survivor,'' have returned with a series based on the New Testament called "A.D. The Bible Continues," which begins on Easter Sunday on NBC. The show debuts in a climate much more receptive to religion-themed television shows and movies after the success of "The Bible" and several major movies in recent years.

An exclusive TODAY survey recently found that 68 percent of respondents believe God exists and 76 percent believe in the power of prayer.

"I think that people are just hungry for hope,'' Downey said. "They're hungry for connection to each other, a connection to God. The Bible is such a wealth of stories. It has all the ingredients. It's exciting, and it's alive."

"It's a big success for our faith and realizing how broad the audience is for spirituality, for God,'' Burnett added. "It's the same size audience as the NFL and for any network TV show."

Burnett has taken the biblical theme and run with it, growing a Moses-style beard during Lent that he showed off on TODAY.

"I'm just saying, I've been trying to get a part on this (new series),'' he joked. "What more does a man got to do?"

"I think maybe it's not long for this world,'' Downey said about the beard. "He's like a human Chia Pet."

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