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Peter T Chattaway

Of Kings and Prophets

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Links to our threads on previous life-of-David adaptations King David (1985), Kings (2009) and David and Goliath (2015).

Links to our threads on the in-development life-of-David movies Goliath, Day of War and whatever Ridley Scott's thing is called, and the in-development TV series called King David produced by Mark Canton and Wolfgang Peterson.

 

Links to our thread on the filmmakers' previous projects Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (in development).

 

ABC has ordered a pilot episode.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Starring Maisie Richardson-Sellers as Saul's daughter Michal.

 

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of information about this actress out there, but she apparently identifies as a "person of colour", which is interesting because the actor playing Michal's father -- i.e. Ray Winstone -- is definitely not that. Who, if anyone, I wonder, will play Michal's mother? Or is this just part of a larger trend towards ethnically random casting in Bible movies -- even when actors of noticeably different ethnic backgrounds are supposed to be playing members of the same family?

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My round-up of the producers' comments, including the aforementioned "racier" version of the series that may get put online, as well as their comments on the "diversity" of the cast, the "accuracy" of the show, and what makes David such a flawed but fascinating character.

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FWIW, my review of the first episode, which airs tonight. Two excerpts:

It would be tempting to say that this series is pitting modern skepticism against traditional religion, but it’s actually more complicated than that. The Old Testament is full of disagreements on how the Israelites should treat foreigners and their offspring, and in its own way, Of Kings and Prophets is tapping into those debates within the Bible — and the dialogue shows that the writers have done their research. Ahinoam quotes Deuteronomy 25 to the effect that the Amalekites are not supposed to be punished until after Israel is at rest from its enemies — and with the Philistines still oppressing the Israelites, the nation is clearly not at rest yet. On a deeper note, Saul protests that killing women and children is what Israel’s enemies do, and he says the Israelites are meant to be “a light to the nations.” That phrase actually comes from the book of Isaiah, which was written hundreds of years after Saul’s time, but there are passages in Isaiah that do stand in opposition to the books of Moses on these issues (I get into some of that here) — so as anachronistic as the Isaiah reference might be, it does show that the series is engaging with the Old Testament as a whole. . . .

If there’s anything missing from the show so far, it’s a sense of David’s spirituality. There’s plenty of God-talk between Saul and Samuel, but if David and Joab talk about anything other than lions and women, I missed it. In the original trailer for this series, which was based on a pilot episode that got scrapped in favour of the episode airing tonight (and tonight’s episode does look better, overall), David told Ahinoam he could hunt the lion because he was “certain of God’s grace and care,” but there is nothing like that in the current episode. Will future episodes give us a taste of the psalmist who is described in the Bible as “a man after God’s own heart”? We shall see. . . .

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FWIW, 1500-ish words of detailed notes on the sources, fictitious elements, and even geography of the first episode. An excerpt:

Editing Samuel. The series skips past the stories about Samuel’s early life (I Samuel 1-7) and the role he played in making Saul king (I Samuel 8-12). It then cherry-picks bits and pieces from I Samuel 13-17 and rearranges the chronology somewhat.

The episode begins with Saul and his sons fighting the Philistines (I Samuel 13-14), and David waking up to discover that a lion has killed his sheep, which kicks off a plot thread that ends with David killing the lion (as per I Samuel 17:34-37). Then Samuel tells Saul to exterminate the Amalekites, which kicks off a plot thread that ends with Samuel killing the Amalekite king and telling Saul God has rejected him as king (I Samuel 15). Saul’s wife Ahinoam also suggests getting David to stay in the palace and play the harp for Saul (a loosely reworked version of I Samuel 16:14-23).

This episode introduces us to various members of Saul’s household: his wife Ahinoam, his sons Jonathan and Ishbaal, his daughters Merav and Michal, and his concubine Rizpah. Saul’s wife and children — including up to three sons (Ishvi, Abinadab and Malki-Shua) who are not depicted in this episode — are listed in I Samuel 14:49-50 and I Chronicles 8:33, though Ishbaal (a.k.a. Ish-Bosheth) is not mentioned in the books of Samuel until after Saul’s death (II Samuel 2-4). The concubine Rizpah is also not mentioned in the Bible until after Saul’s death (II Samuel 3:7), but she did bear him two sons who were killed when David was king (II Samuel 21:8-12).

This episode also introduces us to David and his kinsman Joab. In the Bible, Joab is David’s nephew, the son of David’s sister Zeruiah (I Chronicles 2:13-16). Here he seems to be more or less the same age as David — but that isn’t necessarily so odd, since David was the youngest of either seven (I Chronicles 2:15) or eight (cf. I Samuel 16:10-11) sons, and if Zeruiah was one of the older siblings in the family, she could have been bearing children by the time her youngest brother was born. . . .

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FWIW, another 1500-ish words on episode two. An excerpt:

This episode also introduces the budding romance between David and Michal (I Samuel 18:20), but unlike the biblical David, who at least openly questioned whether he was worthy to marry a princess (I Samuel 18:23), the David of this series is fairly optimistic about his prospects. When his kinsman Joab says David shouldn’t be pursuing the princess, David points to his recent rise in status (from a mere shepherd to a servant of the royal court) and says he could rise even higher.

Certain characters get some biblical back-story. Saul says he was a farmer (cf. I Samuel 11:5) before Samuel came along and declared that Elohim had chosen him (I Samuel 9-10). And the Philistine queen Zaphra reminds her husband Achish that their country was afflicted with plagues and boils after they captured the Ark of the Covenant (I Samuel 5-6) — and she still bears the scars of that affliction.

Saul’s wife Ahinoam summons David to her bedroom and pressures him into sleeping with her. This foreshadows the way David will exploit Bathsheba (II Samuel 11), and it may also have its roots in a theory, held by some Jewish interpreters, that Saul’s wife Ahinoam (I Samuel 14:50) was identical to David’s wife Ahinoam (I Samuel 25:43, etc.), and that Saul called Jonathan’s mother “a perverse and rebellious woman” (I Samuel 20:30) partly because David had stolen Ahinoam away from Saul. . . .

And so on.

Alas, last night's ratings were even worse than last week's, which were pretty bad. This bums me out, because I like a lot of what this series is doing, and I want this genre to do well.

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Cancelled after only two episodes. And they never even got as far as the David vs Goliath showdown, which they had already teased for next week. (I've actually seen that episode already, albeit a version with unfinished VFX etc. The network sent critics the first three episodes for review purposes. There are six more episodes that have already been shot -- so here's hoping the entire season gets released in *some* format.)

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M. Leary   

I hope to find time to draw out this question in some format, but this cancellation is a bit chilling.

If a show like this was done well (and I think this one has been pretty good), why would it not draw an audience? It is very firmly in Game of Thrones territory, albeit a bit less complicated and graphic. If expanded with a bit of flourish, the canonical and 2nd temple era Hebrew historical books easily rival Martin's imagination. Vikings was renewed for a 5th season. Black Sails for a fourth. Rome ran for two seasons. Spartacus ran for three seasons.

This is just cherry picking some of the similar historical epics of the past few years with similar themes and story arcs. And all of them have run for multiple seasons.

So why would a version of this really fascinating, violent, sexually explicit, real actual historical narrative not work?

1. Wrong format? Should producers be looking more toward a miniseries/BBC model for this? Six episode runs over three years or so? Or perhaps move it to an FX model of 12 really solid epsiodes helmed initially by an experienced stylist as director?

2. Wrong vibe? Should writers dial up the raw edges of these narratives, as the material is rife with GoT-level craziness? (Though this series has really pushed the edge of biblical TV narrative, for sure). 

3. Wrong era? Should a producer bounce forward to the 2nd temple Maccabean material first?

4. Is there a latent anti-Semitism issue here? Are people simply not interested in watching stories about Israel's conquest and colonizing of Palestine?

5. Poor direction? The first episode of this series was really just a mish-mash of intensified continuity tropes. The 40 second intro to David's character in episode 1, for example, comprises 43 edits. One cannot simply mash together all the features of prestige TV and expect people to receive as prestige TV.

6. Are Christians just a bad audience for this stuff because they are trained to either be extremely literal and nitpicky in their OT reading or simply have to little knowledge of the material to want to watch a show like this? This would mean that "Christians" are a much different market to nail down than we think. "Evangelicals" will eat up God's Not Dead, but shy away from this kind of content.

--

There is some reason or cluster of reasons that stories about ancient Israel do not generate an audience even though this kind of TV is very popular at the moment. My gut suspicion is that 1, 4, 5, and 6 are the biggest factors at play.

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When was the last network TV series even close to this that was successful?  I can't think of anything off the top of my head.  All of the ones mentioned by MLeary are on premium channels.  

Frankly, I watch so little network TV (except Downton Abbey, but I'm just along for the ride with that one) and haven't watched any for years unless you count sports.  So I knew this was in the works only because of Peter's posts, not because I saw an ad or even thought about watching it.

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Part of the responsibility for the show's failure has to lie with the network, I think.

I don't follow TV very closely, but apparently ABC has been having problems with the Tuesday 10pm timeslot for a while now. So by putting the show in that timeslot, they were arguably signaling their lack of confidence in the show.

As for ads, I did see some... but I signed up for the ABC channel on YouTube, in the hope that I would get instant notifications whenever there was a new clip or a new TV spot or something... and instead, I saw lots of clips from / TV spots for *other* shows, but virtually nothing from *this* show. Was the network even *trying* to get the word out? (In this regard, there was a *huge* difference between ABC's handling of this show and NBC's handling of A.D. The Bible Continues last year, for which there were many, many videos -- almost all of which have since been yanked offline, but anyhoo.)

I also vaguely remember reading somewhere that a new executive took the reins at ABC a few months ago, and apparently Of Kings and Prophets had been a favorite of the *previous* executive's. So there may be some behind-the-scenes dynastic changes that affected the fate of this show about dynastic changes.

In any case, they shot nine episodes of this series at a rumoured cost of $6 million per episode, so I have to assume they're going to release the show in *some* format, just to recover (some of) their costs.

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This show was cancelled over a month ago in North America, but it's still airing in New Zealand! And if you happen to *be* in New Zealand, you can watch episodes 7 and 8 *right now* on the TVNZ website. (They only stream episodes for two weeks after they air, and the first six episodes have already come and gone. Nine episodes were produced in total.)

I also found a Russian website that has the first five episodes, all dubbed in Russian, but I don't know how "legit" that site is (I assume the dubbed episodes actually aired on Russian TV, but I don't know if the website is connected to a Russian broadcaster or is some sort of pirate thing), and in any case I'd rather wait until I can see the episodes in their original English.

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BethR   

I was a fan of the late lamented Kings, which lasted just a little longer, and seemingly had higher hurdles to overcome, being set in the 20th century. Here's why I didn't watch Of Kings and Prophets:

1. This promo poster/image: ?u=http%3A%2F%2Ftvmazecdn.com%2Fuploads%

Seriously? What is this? Is it supposed to be David? Goliath? Saul? Jonathan? The Hulk (non-green phase)?

2. ABC actively promoted the series by comparing it to Game of Thrones, to which I am also devoted. But guess what? 1-2 Samuel is not GoT and I am not interested in seeing it reimagined as GoT. I'd bet that a lot of people who might have been interested in a show based on the story of David and Saul were even less interested in a GoT-ish version.

3. I tried to watch episode 1. David was a thug. At that point, I could no longer willingly suspend my disbelief.

Edited by BethR

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