Of Kings and Prophets showrunner Chris Brancato admits that bringing a Bible-based epic to network TV — as a weekly primetime series, no less — requires guts. And enough time to do the job right.
ABC’s big-budget series (premiering Tuesday, March 8 and airing Tuesdays) was already in production in South Africa when the net approached Brancato — who moved on from his acclaimed Netflix drama Narcos — to helm the show. He opted to scrap Kings’ existing pilot and start fresh, bumping the premiere from the fall 2015 schedule. Shouldering up with Kings’ creators Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, Brancato and team revamped scripts, tweaked their cast and channeled more time and resources into giving the series a lush, authentic look and feel that augments its complex story.
Of Kings and Prophets is culled from what most folks know as “the David and Goliath story” — a.k.a. the Bible’s 1 Samuel — which documents David’s rise from lion- and giant-slaying shepherd to warrior king of Israel as his jealous, troubled predecessor (and future father-in-law) Saul falls from power and God’s grace. Themes of faith, ambition and betrayal form a brutal, sensual and biblically sound story that rings with modern relevance, making it accessible to both secular and nonsecular audiences (yes, really).
“For a nonsecular audience, we’re doing as faithful a retelling of Samuel 1 as we possibly can,” Brancato says. “For the secular audience, it’s just great drama. When you boil it down, the reason David is a statue in Florence is because it was such a great story. It’s framed as the quintessential underdog story, but, in some ways, it’s so much more than that. Our show examines was David really an underdog or did he have it all figured out in advance? What lengths was he willing to go to in order to achieve the destiny that he saw as his?”
Brancato says he and his writing team carefully avoided any political or religious agenda and recognized that a completely literal translation was impossible in a 10-episode series. “What we did was we looked for ways within the story to create situations that, if you want to vault them up into the present, you can,” he explains. “For instance, I have to create for the women motivations and psychological complexity that simply doesn’t exist because it wasn’t written in the Bible at that time.”
What was written, Brancato says, is the show’s heart — a tale of personal, political and religious upheaval and resolve that is still playing out on the world stage today.
“Having done a lot of research into David and the scholarship of the period, these are human beings who existed and who were part of the formation of a nation that was dealing — 3,000 years ago — with its desire for sovereignty. For a land of its own against Philistines and other ethnic groups that did not want them to have that undivided nation and did not want them to survive,” he says. “We are talking about a historical drama that started then and continues into a current iteration that we are reading about in newspapers today … a relevance that makes it very timely. Ultimately, the show is about the fight of all peoples, be they Jews, Arabs, Christians, Muslims — it doesn’t matter. We’re all trying to survive and we’re trying to have faith. We’re trying to live in peace, as hard as that is.”
— Written by Lori Acken