King David, “Warrior. Lover. Legend.” At least that’s the gospel from an unexpected source: network television.
Move over HBO and “Game of Thrones,” there’s a new drama series in town. On March 8, ABC premieres “Of Kings and Prophets,” depicting the biblical giants of the day – King Saul, his successor David, the Prophet Samuel — and a host of other familiar figures.
Based on the Books of Samuel, this Hollywood production takes plenty of historical liberties and a rather creative license – replete with mature themes and graphic violence – to depict the turmoil surrounding King Saul, the up-and-coming slingshot-wielding shepherd, David son of Jesse, and other palace intrigue.
In this version of the Hebrew Bible, a handsome cast of actors speaks in British accents with some awkward Hebrew pronunciations. The resourceful David is portrayed by Olly Rix, a graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (BBC’s “The Musketeers”). His love interest, Saul’s beautiful daughter, the princess Michal, is played by Oxford-educated Maisie Richardson-Sellers (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”).
Mohammad Bakri, a native of Bi’ina in northern Israel, portrays the Prophet Samuel with an exotic regional accent, while Haaz Sleiman, who is Lebanese, plays Saul’s son, the swarthy Jonathan. Simone Kessell is an empowered queen as his mother, Saul’s wife, Ahinoam, and veteran British actor Ray Winstone plays a battle-weary King Saul.
Filmed on location in Cape Town, South Africa, the show doesn’t exactly feel like the most authentic representation of the ancient Kingdom of Israel, but the program spurs curiosity and captivates nonetheless.
Writers Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, who developed the series and serve among the show’s handful of co-executive producers, expand on briefly mentioned biblical incidents, such as David’s battle with a lion. The two, who also created “Exodus: Gods & Kings,” consider the Books of Samuel one of the world’s first soap operas.
Cooper, who was raised Reform on Long Island’s South Shore, shared more of the story behind “Of Kings and Prophets” with The Times of Israel.
What inspired this program?
The idea behind “Of Kings and Prophets” sprang from conversations co-creator Bill Collage and I had with our fellow executive producers, Jason Reed, Mahyad Tousi and Reza Aslan. In the wake of our experience writing “Exodus: Gods & Kings,” we were eager to bring another of the Bible’s “big three” — Noah, Moses and King David — to global audiences. The biblical books of Samuel 1 and Samuel 2 provided both the inspiration and foundation for the narrative that is Season One, with hopes that we will continue to tell the story across subsequent seasons.
Why bring the Bible to primetime as a series?
The Bible is the most widely read and revered text on the planet. On top of providing the faithful with guiding principles on morality and a guideline for worship, it also provides its readers with some of the most compelling stories ever told.
Our desire was to bring one of the most prized stories of the Bible to a platform that could reach as many people as possible — and a prime time network series provided that platform. Hollywood has been exploring the Bible and its characters for decades, as recently as Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s “The Bible.”
What do you find fascinating in the story of King David?
The story of King David is one of the most well-known stories of the Bible. In choosing the story of David and his rise to power, we are at once telling the story of the birth of a nation, while at the same time telling the story of a man beckoned by God to a higher calling.
How do the graphic content and mature themes compare to the network’s other content? And how does ABC weigh the decision to depict such intense scenes from the Bible?
Without complete knowledge of specifics, I would gather that our show contains less sex than the classic ABC series in the equivalent time slot, and a level of violence commensurate with its biblical origins and depiction.
ABC encouraged us to be as truthful to the biblical narrative — inclusive of sex and violence — as we could reasonably depict on network television. As it relates to broadcast though, decisions on how much can or cannot be show is governed by Broadcast Standards & Practices.
Does the narrative arc take much creative license?
The narrative of Season One is culled directly from the Bible and tells the story of David’s rise to power and Saul’s fall from grace. While the Bible gives you all the sign posts in terms of plotting and character action, it does not provide you with the connective tissue that gets you from one sign post to the next.
As dramatists, it was our job to come up with the “how and why” behind why characters behave as they do, and fill the proverbial silences between those sign posts. That said, the text is sacrosanct to us and we did our very best to represent it as faithfully as possible. Given that the Bible does not present you with what one character might have said to another, the dialogue is of our own imagining (beyond what the biblical narrative offers).
Why film in South Africa?
The goal was to present the Promised Land as it may have existed 3,000 years ago. South Africa offered topographical extremes and likenesses to what we imagine Israel may have looked like in the time of King David, uncorrupted by climate, erosion and time.
What went into the making of the sets and costumes?
The sets were created by our production designer, Johnny Breedt. The costumes were created by Moira Meyer and Neil McClennan. All our talented creatives exhaustively researched the period and built their designs with an eye towards authenticity; 90% of the show is practical. Meaning, very little is computer generated, short of set extensions that expand the scope of the world.
Reza Aslan is the historical content expert. Reza’s input was invaluable in helping us make sure that we were honorific of the biblical text.