Although ABC picked up the Biblical drama “Of Kings and Prophets” and prepared to go to series, the original pilot got a lukewarm reception from advertisers when they got a look at it in May. But the network believed enough in the concept — based on the Books of Samuel — to give it a second chance.
In came writer Chris Brancato, who rewrote the pilot with the help of original writers Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, along with staff writers. All the footage from the first version was scrapped, with cast and crew returning this fall to Cape Town, South Africa, to start over.
Brancato is an intriguing choice to helm “Of Kings and Prophets,” since most of his background is in crime drama, including “Boomtown,” “Hannibal” and, most recently, Netflix’s critically acclaimed drug cartel saga “Narcos.”
The story of “Kings” centers on the inevitable clash between Saul (Ray Winstone), the king of Israel, and up-and-comer David (Olly Rix), who will one day displace him. There have been some cast changes, but one actor who will return is Lebanon-raised Haaz Sleiman — who played Jesus in National Geographic Channel’s “Killing Jesus” — as Jonathan.
Mohammed Bakri, an Israeli of Arab descent, plays the prophet Samuel, who anoints both Saul and David.
“When you’re dealing with subject matter,” said Brancato, “that is faith-based and beloved by so many, it’s going to be very difficult to do a show that pleases everybody. So, frankly, what I’ve looked at in studying the Old Testament Book of Samuel I is trying to find things that are relevant to the way we live today, how these characters had God in their lives, what it meant to them, how having God in their lives affected their actions, and what faith meant to people in this particular time.”
According to Brancato, one of the problems with the first pilot is that the production was rushed, and producers and crew didn’t have the time to create sets, props, etc., that really evoked ancient Israel. This time around, Brancato plans to bring more authenticity to the look of the show, while essentially telling the same story.
One thing “Killing Jesus” did was to take a biblical story and tell it in a naturalistic way, not showing miracles or anything supernatural. In the case of “Of Kings and Prophets,” Brancato says we’re not going to see or hear a direct representation of God.
“Samuel is the one who speaks to God,” said Brancato, “and that leaves open, for other characters, the interpretation of whether Samuel is interpreting God’s words directly, or whether Samuel is trying to exert his own influence on the kingdom.
“That’s obviously something that’s incredibly relevant today in various religious conflicts all over the world.”
As for his personal view of doing a faith-based story, Brancato said, “My approach is that God means something to me. It means something to you. It means something to every person who considers whether there is a power outside of oneself.”
But he doesn’t want to get into the argument over “liberal” or “conservative” interpretations of Scripture. Instead, Brancato is aiming for a story that is not so much about who or what God is, but about how belief affects men and women in power. You could consider it a type of “Game of Thrones,” but one in which the God of Israel exerts influence through people.
Said Brancato, “That isn’t trying to turn the story into something it isn’t, but in fact offering different perspectives. What I’m trying to do is a show that tells as best I can the historical battle, if you will for a throne, that’s epic, interesting and has various characters with different perspectives on what religion and God mean.
“This is the story of church and state.”
The show was originally set for ABC’s fall schedule, but the network has made no announcement about when it might now premiere — which seems likely to not be before the summer or fall of 2016.