Special reconstructs the life of historical Jesus


Today being Easter, the Smithsonian Channel figures it's a good time to debut a series about Jesus.

The two-night, four-part documentary, The Real Jesus of Nazareth, kicks off at 7 p.m. today with the second episode following at 8. The miniseries concludes at the same times Monday.

The series is hosted by British actor Robert Powell, who portrayed Jesus in the Emmy-nominated 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth. Now, Smithsonian tells us, "Powell takes a journey through modern Israel in an attempt to reconstruct the story of the man who changed history."

The 1977 British-Italian miniseries, labeled by Smithsonian Channel as "a global television event" and "one of the most celebrated TV biographies of Jesus ever made," was directed by Franco Zeffirelli (Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew) and co-written by Zeffirelli, Anthony Burgess and Suso Cecchi d'Amico.

More than 90 million viewers have seen the series in the United States alone.

In addition to Powell (who was 33 years old at the time), the series featured an all-star cast, including Oscar winners Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Anthony Quinn, Rod Steiger and Peter Ustinov.

An interesting trivia point is that Powell's iconic interpretation of Jesus made such an impact that his face and portrayal have become the way many imagine Jesus to have looked -- tall, thin, pale, chiseled cheekbones, long brown hair, trim beard, blue eyes.

Research (and logic) indicates that was not the case. Hollywood, with an eye on the box office, has portrayed Jesus as a fair-skinned Nordic type almost since the beginning and not as a Jew in first-century Judea.

Other actors who have played Jesus include blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter (King of Kings), blue-eyed Swede Max von Sydow (The Greatest Story Ever Told), brown-eyed Canadian Victor Garber (Godspell), blue-eyed Ted Neeley (Jesus Christ Superstar), blue-eyed Willem Dafoe (The Last Temptation of Christ) and brown-eyed Brit Christian Bale (Mary, Mother of Jesus).

Powell, who is 72 now, interviews archaeologists, theologians and scholars who help him reconstruct the story of the man who changed history. The series intersperses footage from Powell's 1977 miniseries with his current-day excursion "to draw parallels between the scripted depiction of the biblical story and the real history behind it by breaking down the life of Jesus and the world he lived in."

Here's an episode roundup.

Hour 1: "The Lost Years" explores Jesus' early life in Nazareth and Bethlehem until the age of 12, then the missing years before he reappears around the age of 30.

Hour 2: "The Ministry Begins" highlights Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist and the development of Jesus' "radical message" that would form the basis of the Christian religion.

Hour 3: "From Galilee to Jerusalem" takes Powell to Capernaum to learn about those who chose to follow Jesus, then to Jerusalem where he uncovers a radical new idea about Jesus' final confrontation with the Jewish authorities.

Hour 4: "The Final Days" takes viewers through the familiar end, including showing how different the reality of crucifixion would have been from the traditional depictions. Finally, it's shown how the belief in the Resurrection would be the catalyst for a new religion.

Bee Gees special. Stayin' Alive: A Grammy Salute to the Music of the Bee Gees airs from 7 to 9 p.m. today on CBS.

A number of artists will pay tribute to the Bee Gees in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the soundtrack to the film Saturday Night Fever. Performers include Celine Dion, Ed Sheeran, Keith Urban, John Legend, Stevie Wonder and the last surviving Bee Gee, Barry Gibb.

Gibb is 70 these days. His brother and bandmate Maurice died unexpectedly in 2003 at the age of 53; and Maurice's fraternal twin, Robin, died at 62 in 2012 after a long battle with cancer.

Younger Gibb brother Andy (not a member of the Bee Gees) died at age 30 in 1988 after years of drug abuse.

Saturday Night Fever starred 23-year-old TV star John Travolta (Welcome Back, Kotter) as disco king Tony Manero. Travolta followed the film's success with 1978's Grease opposite Olivia Newton-John.

The Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was an international phenomenon and stayed No. 1 on the charts for 24 weeks. It won six Grammys.

Grab a paint can, swagger down the sidewalk and sing along with me, fellow boomers: "Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I'm a woman's man, no time to talk ..."

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:


Style on 04/16/2017

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