Sunday School, it's not.
ABC's new drama, Of Kings and Prophets, tells the story of the Book of Samuel in a way that lets the full, sometimes messy humanity of the characters rise to the top. A lot of dutiful and painstaking research went into crafting the show, producers and writers said at the Television Critics Association gathering Saturday — which gave them license to portray the steamy sex, violent fighting and moral ambiguity presented in the first book of Samuel.
"What we're doing is a faithful translation of Samuel," said Chris Brancato, executive producer and showrunner. In breathing life to the books, he said, "It's suspenseful. It has twists and turns. It's extraordinary violent and sexual." The show has a modern pulse, he said, although we're watching a depiction of events thousands of years ago. It's shot in South Africa, which Brancato said looks more like the land of milk and honey from the Bible more so than modern-day Israel. A crew of more than 500 people painstakingly dotes over details to get the look and costumes just right.
"David is the world's first rock star," said Reza Aslan, religious scholar and author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, who serves as an executive producer. David, he said, is "deeply flawed, vain, vengeful, lustful - he kills friends, he betrayed his wife. But he also loves God and God loves him."
Writers and producers actually pulled back on the sex and violence in adapting the story, they said. Still, it gets juicy, with Reva (Jeanine Mason, winner of So You Think You Can Dance Season 5) steaming up a pilot episode and the often-debated relationship between David and Jonathan intentionally left ambiguous. "If you want to read into it that there's a physical attraction, please do so," Brancato said.
Ultimately, Of Kings and Prophets is an inspirational story - a tale about an unlikely hero who overcomes barriers and complications to fulfill a destiny he never asked for. Producers hope people see themselves and how to overcome their own challenges in it — and of course, get sucked in by its grittier elements.
After all, Brancato said, "It's one of the world's first soap operas."
Of Kings and Prophets premieres Tuesday, March 8 at 10/9c on ABC.