It’s a busy mid-April day at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. Paul McCartney, Liam Neeson and Jason Momoa are all hanging out, and apparently Justin Bieber is also in the house. But it’s likely that none of these people has had a day quite like comedian Jeff Foxworthy, host of GSN’s hit faith-based game show “The American Bible Challenge,” returning for a third season on Thursday, May 22.
He slips into a chair in the hotel’s lounge, fresh off an afternoon of shooting some promos with kids. “They were pretty fun,” he tells Zap2it. “We were asking them all kinds of Bible questions. There were some really good ones. We asked, ‘How old is God?’ One girl was pretty sure he was four. I said, ‘What does He look like?” And she said, ‘Me.’ I liked that.”
In the wake of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s hit 2013 miniseries version of “The Bible,” all things biblical are pretty hot right now. That includes NBC’s “A.D.” (set for spring 2015), the follow-up to “The Bible” and such feature films as the recent “Noah.” Then there’s the upcoming New Testament stories “Ben-Hur” (with Burnett and Downey as producers) and “Mary” (2015), along with Ridley Scott’s Old Testament epic, “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
But “American Bible Challenge” premiered in Aug. 2012, so it began ahead of the curve and returns now on the crest of a wave.
“You know the thing that’s amazing?” Foxworthy says. “It’s a show about the Bible on a non-faith-based network, and it’s the number-one show. So, we went away after Season 2 and said, ‘What are we doing good? What can we do better?’ One of the things I think that is good is, we have some really diverse teams.
“You might have a motorcycle gang; you might have rodeo cowboys, street rappers, tattoo artists. I want somebody watching that had this preconceived notion of people who know their Bible … you have this idea, ‘Who knows the Bible?,’ and you find out you’re wrong.”
He acknowledges, “One of the things I wanted to do better was, to me, somebody just talking about faith gets boring kind of quickly, but if you see it in action … which is what this show does. So, I said, going into this season, instead of playing for these big, nebulous charities, like the American Cancer Society, let’s go find somebody that has cancer, somebody in [the contestants’] community, that needs help. Let’s make these stories more personal. … I think we did a good job with that this season.”
But the charitable impulse has been there since the beginning. Foxworthy recalls a Season 1 episode where the charity was a Plano, Texas food pantry, named after contestant Minnie.
“They won $20,000,” he says, “and when we went to commercial, she’s crying, tears all over the place. I went over and put my arm around her, and I said, ‘Are you OK?’ She said, ‘Do you know this means 80,000 meals for people that don’t get enough to eat?’
“I went, ‘Oh, wow, because, on another game show, when somebody wins $20,000, they’re buying a motorcycle. You’re providing 80,000 meals.’ That’s what makes this show different.”
Asked why the Bible never seems to go out of style, Foxworthy says that it’s not just a book of rules, but “a love story.”
“It’s a love that’s so cool,” he says, “because it’s not based on what we do, it’s based on who He is, which is what every single one of us wants. Every single one of us desires to be relevant; every single one of us desires to be worth something; and every single one of us desires to be loved. When you understand the story, you’re like, ‘Wow, I am loved.’ It’s totally a relationship.'”
Foxworthy hopes that’s what people see when they tune into “American Bible Challenge.”
“What’s happened to a lot of people,” he says, “they’ve tried all the things that the world said, ‘Hey, this is going to fill you up,’ and they still find themselves empty. … Then you watch a show like this, and you see somebody loving on people they don’t even know just for the sake of loving on people, and you go, ‘I want some of that in my life. I want to see what that feels like.'”
Here’s a sneak peek of the series: