'The Passion of the Christ' Makes Commercial TV Debut on Palm Sunday

This Palm Sunday, more than 2 billion Christians worldwide will celebrate Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem 1981 years ago—mere days before his Passion.

To mark the occasion, UP Television will show The Passion of the Christ (2004) in its commercial TV debut at 9 p.m. EST—ten years after it made box-office history.

The film earned $612 million, the most ever for an independent film, after spending less than $70 million on production and marketing costs (estimated), financed by the director Mel Gibson and his Icon Productions.

The reason it was so successful is that it was real, said Charley Humbard, president and CEO, UP.

“It’s like someone who writes a great song about something they experienced,” Humbard says. “It’s not just, ‘I knew a friend who knew somebody that did something’—but, something that happens to you… I think Mel had his own personal struggles” that made the film real, said Humbard. “He wanted those emotions to really affect people because (that way) your heart is open a little more to what this story is really about.”

It’s The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), as director George Stevens titled his predecessor film in which Jesus, 33, endures the Passion—the agony in the garden, scourging, crowning with thorns, sentencing to death under Pontius Pilate, carrying his cross to the “place of the skull,” where he was nailed to that cross, lifted high, dying an excruciating death, over three hours, in the blazing sun and glaring audience, yelling ‘save yourself,’ when he was saving them and all mankind, with a love so great he would have suffered this agony, if only to save one sinner, when a mere pinprick would have sufficed to redeem all.

“Where I started,” said Gibson in a video interview posted at UP's home page, “was to make a story that inspired and ... would spread the effects of faith, hope, love, forgiveness. It seems to have done that.”

Still, the star said, “I wasn’t absolutely sure it would happen... And there (were) a lot of hurdles... more so than I’ve ever experienced in life... And, I knew it would be rough,” he said, pausing. “And, it was.”

Sunday, that “faith, hope, love, forgiveness” will be available to the nearly 70 million households who subscribe to UP-TV, a top-50 ranked network, which airs “uplifting” entertainment—music, series and film, including dozens of original productions, such as Apple Mortgage Cake, airing Easter Sunday.

The Passion, said Humbard, is “the reason for Easter.” But, it’s not all uplifting. “The Romans,” he said, “didn’t intend crucifixion to be swift and quick... they made it as awful as it could be” to deter behavior and the film is “incredibly violent” in accurately portraying what “happened to a person during Roman times.”

At the same time, an “amazing love story” plays out, said Humbard, which Gibson poignantly portrays—“the love of a Son for his Heavenly Father... the love of the Mother for her Son.”

In the end, Humbard said, the film “does the magic of any successful movie—really grabs your emotions—so you really get the meaning of it even in a much deeper way.”

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Phil Kloer wrote, The Passion of the Christ “was so singular, so intense, so overwhelming that it simply has to be experienced.” UP is making this cinematic experience the centerpiece of its two-week block of Easter programming, which along with their 50 days of Christmas programming, signals “Easter lives here, Christmas lives here”—the real purpose of which infuse their seasonal programming.

“Our audience,” said Humbard, “tends to be active in their faith lives and really care about their values more than other audiences on average, by far.”

Humbard understands how to deliver what audiences want, having spent 33 years in media and at the highest levels of cable television, first at Turner Broadcasting, then at Discovery Channels, where, among other roles, he developed domestic fan-based channels, that later spun off, e.g., Discovery Wings became The Military Channel.

Prior to that, he spent 20 years traveling with his father Rex Humbard, the first minister to spread the Gospel via mass communication.

“Dad started back in 1952 on TV each week,” said Humbard, after spending many years on full-time radio “with a weekly televised service that ended up going to 170 countries in 19 languages, 685 stations worldwide.”

While Humbard worked in both production and audio, he said, “I was also playing the guitar and singing and performing as part of the Humbard Family Singers.” Then, 9/11 happened and everything changed for him. “I wanted to do something that had both immediate and eternal value to it.”

His whole life, he realized, had prepared him for this next venture. Recognizing Gospel Christian music fans were “underserved,” he left Discovery to create the “Gospel Music Channel (GMC),” working with Brad Siegel, who had just left Turner as the President of all the entertainment networks. They launched in 2004, changing the name last summer to UP TV, which, he said, makes it a general entertainment network with “greater reach.”

It’s intended for the widest possible audience, he said, and has “a high appeal to families and… people who care about their faith and values,” who, at the same time, like “great story telling and great entertainment.”

UP viewers, in their hearts and minds, think of it as “my uplifting destination on television,” countering “all the negatives on TV today,” he said. It’s the kind of channel Louis B. Mayer may have gotten involved with were he alive today.

Many don’t know but Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer vaulted to the top because of the success of Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925). Humbard, too, when he was pounding the pavement in New York City to visit and talk with “all the different constituencies (needed) to get a cable network launched,” cited The Passion of the Christ as a template of success. On The Passion of the Christ’s 10th anniversary, it’s only fitting, Humbard said, that it should air on UP, also celebrating its 10th. Indeed.


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