By Dan Merica
(CNN) — The third episode of the History Channel’s miniseries “The Bible” was supposed to be remembered for the brutality of Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar, the strength of Daniel in the lion’s den, and the birth of Jesus Christ.
But after viewers claimed there was a striking resemblance between Satan’s human form and President Barack Obama, that probably won’t be the case.
Buzz on Twitter quickly grew. According to Topsy.com on Monday, there were nearly 20,000 tweets containing the words “Obama” and “Satan” since the 9:00 p.m. ET hour on Sunday, the hour in which Satan appears in the two-hour show.
In a statement, miniseries producer Mark Burnett called claims there was a resemblance “utter nonsense.”
Burnett said the actor who played Satan, Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni, “is a highly acclaimed Moroccan actor. He has previously played parts in several Biblical epics — including Satanic characters long before Barack Obama was elected as our President.”
Ouazanni has had roles in two biblical TV movies — “Jeremiah” and “The Ten Commandments.”
Executive producer of the miniseries Roma Downey, Burnett’s wife, added, “Both Mark and I have nothing but respect and love our President, who is a fellow Christian. False statements such as these are just designed as a foolish distraction to try and discredit the beauty of the story of The Bible.”
Satan appears during the miniseries’ retelling of the Temptation of Christ, when Jesus fasted for 40 days in the Judean Dessert. Satan tests Jesus’ faith, asking him to make bread out of stone and jump from a cliff, but he refuses each temptation and returns to the Sea of Galilee to begin his ministry.
In the desert, Satan is draped in a long, black, hooded robe and with a slight silver tint to his face.
Both Downey and Burnett supported Obama’s first campaign for president in 2008, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Downey gave $5,000 to the Obama Victory Fund and $2,700 to the Democratic National Committee in 2008. Burnett also donated to Obama’s first campaign — $2,300 in 2007.
Neither gave money to Obama’s 2012 campaign.
After three episodes, the show has scored strong ratings. Its first episode drew 13.1 million viewers, ratings that trumped CBS’s “60 Minutes” and AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” The second episode drew 10.8 million viewers.
Ratings for the third installment in the five-week miniseries have not been released.
The project has been a three-and-a-half year process for The History Channel and for Burnett and Downey. Burnett — who is better known as a king of reality television, with “Survivor,” “The Voice” and “The Apprentice” all under his name — told CNN earlier this month that this project was “personal.”
“It was time for an updating, adding fresh visual life to a sacred text,” Burnett said.
Both Downey and Burnett were raised Catholic, Burnett in England and Downey in Ireland. They still regularly attend Mass in Los Angeles. Growing up, both watched the classic biblical films that the Hollywood of yesteryear churned out, like “The Ten Commandments” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”
To film their Bible series, the duo set off for the southern tip of Morocco with a crew of around 400 people.
Burnett and Downey consulted a wide range of pastors and academics, including a major evangelical leader and a Catholic cardinal.
Their advisory panel consisted of many people from varied backgrounds familiar with sharing the stories of the Bible, rather than a who’s who of biblical academics.
Joel Osteen, a popular television preacher and pastor of the 30,000-member Lakewood church in Houston, was among those consulted. Osteen and Burnett are friends and were developing a television series together that went on the back burner during the production of this series. Osteen even took his family to Morocco during some of the filming.
While the History Channel owns the exclusive North American rights to the project, Burnett and Downey own the rights to global distribution and theatrical airings, which are in the works. The project also has a book tie-in, games and apps.
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