When Is ‘The Ten Commandments’ on TV This Easter 2018?

Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments
Paramount Pictures
Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments

Except for 1999, ABC has rebroadcast Cecil B. DeMille’s Oscar-winning 1956 epic The Ten Commandments every year around Easter since 1973. And that long-running Easter tradition continues in 2018.

The Ten Commandments airs on ABC this Saturday, March 31, (the night before Easter), at 7pm ET. (If you are DVRing it, the machine may get a workout—the broadcast is scheduled in a 4 hour, 44-minute time slot!)

Over the years, ABC has varied between showing the film right on Easter night, and on the Saturday night before Easter—with the latter being the case for the last several years, including this year. Some viewers tend to prefer one night over the other, but others don’t seem to mind which night, as long as they can watch the film.

The network may be trying to satisfy as many demos as possible, airing the film during both the Passover and Easter holidays, though it seems more fitting for the former celebration, given that the truly massive film encompasses a pretty thorough retelling of events from the Old Testament Book of Exodus, and has nothing really to do with the New Testament recounting of Jesus’ death and resurrection that is commemorated at Easter.

In any case, The Ten Commandments remains a thoroughly enjoyable film, no matter what religion you do or do not practice (and even if today’s televisions, no matter how large or high-quality they may be, can’t do justice to the film’s original VistaVision presentation).

It’s easy to say “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” regarding such films, but in the case of The Ten Commandments, that is literally true—with its massive live crowd shots (of both people and animals) and spectacular set designs, the cost of making a film like this in the manner in which it was produced would certainly be viewed as prohibitive by any studio today.

From an era in which Biblical epics were fairly common in Hollywood, DeMille’s work is one of the few that remains so highly watched and beloved to this day.

Along with Charlton Heston’s iconic role as Moses (and as the voice of God via the Burning Bush), the film is also star-studded with the likes of Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, an oddly cast Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek, Vincent Price, John Carradine and more.

DeMille is at the height of his directorial powers here as he wrangles so much into a captivating, if melodramatic, presentation. Among the film’s other technical achievements (including its Oscar-winning special effects), it also boasts a grand musical score by Elmer Bernstein.

Almost as dramatic as the film itself was the manner in which ABC used to announce its showings of it, as evidenced in this 1984 intro (which also may have bummed out a few viewers by informing them that Hardcastle and McCormick would be pre-empted that evening):

It’s easy to see why, in a year like 1984, with home video not yet prevalent in homes, that people would eagerly tune in to a showing like this, and why it was hyped so dramatically. But today, when practically any film, including The Ten Commandments, can be readily available to anyone at anytime on DVD or other outlets, why do people still display a sometimes passionate desire to see ABC air this film every year at around the same time?

This seems to be a case where it’s not only the film itself, but the tradition of watching it on television, most likely with family, that combines to make it a special event for many viewers, perhaps made stronger set against the backdrop of various spring holidays.

Television times may have changed, but ABC’s annual Easter airing of The Ten Commandments can still give (particularly older) viewers some sense of that comfort and familiarity. Enjoy!

The Ten Commandments, Saturday, March 31, 2018, 7/6c, ABC