NBC takes David and Goliath for an ultramodern spin

Michael Green was walking down a street in Jerusalem in late 2006 when the concept of the new television series “Kings” came into focus.

“The idea had been roiling my brain for a while,” said Green, who then sat down to write the pilot for “Kings,” even though he was still writing and serving as co-executive producer for “Heroes.”

Launched on March 15 with two-hour premiere, “Kings” takes the biblical drama of David, Goliath and King Saul and transports it to a contemporary city that looks a lot like a gleaming New York after a thorough scrubbing.

But don’t look for a 21st century swords-and-sandals epic. The political intrigues and corporate power plays have a distinctly Washingtonian ring, and part of the fun is to look for parallels to the last year of President George W. Bush’s administration, the Cold War, Vietnam, Iraq, Middle East conflicts and even the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Aking

In the premiere, David (Chris Egan, right) frees the king’s son after doing battle with Goliath tanks. photo/courtesy of nbc universal

Green, who attended a yeshiva in New York and whose mother is Israeli, is a bit coy about drawing direct biblical-contemporary comparisons. “It’s not for me to say what the parallels are,” he commented. “That’s up to each viewer.”

However, any Jewish or Christian viewer who stayed awake in religious school should have no trouble identifying the TV protagonists with their biblical counterparts.

We meet King Silas Benjamin (King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin, first king of Israel), David Shepherd (David, the shepherd), the king’s son Jack (Jonathan), the king’s daughter Michelle (Michal), and the Rev. Ephraim Samuels (the Prophet Samuel).

Actors in the two key roles are Ian McShane (“Heroes”) as the king and Australian actor Chris Egan as David.

In the first episode, the king, wearing an expensive power suit, rules over the prosperous Kingdom of Gilboa and is ensconced with his queen in a mansion in the capital of Shiloh.

He is also at war with neighboring Gath and when his son is kidnapped during a military skirmish, it is David, a fellow soldier, who frees Jack and earns the gratitude of the king.

To free the hostage, David has to do battle with the Gath army’s Goliath tanks. At home, David becomes an instant media favorite.

As creator and executive producer of “Kings,” Green makes it tough to define the precise genre of the series by introducing touches of sci-fi and fantasy. “King’s” crew shot a season’s worth of 14 episodes — the premiere contained two — in and around New York, including at studios in Brooklyn and in a Nassau County mansion.

With a large cast, opulent palace scenes and shooting in New York, this is an expensive production.

Green begged off giving an exact budget figure, but he put the cost of an average prime-time TV episode as between $2 million and $4.5 million, with “Kings” definitely on the high end.

Green, 36, is a native New Yorker whose mother was born in Tel Aviv. She visits Israel often, Green said, adding, “Most of my extended family lives in Israel.”

He is optimistic that “Kings” will eventually be seen on Israeli and British television, which usually happens after a second or third season in the United States.

Green completed a double major in human biology and religious studies at Stanford University, but after college, his interest turned to story writing.

“Kings” airs from 8 to 9 p.m. Sundays on NBC

 

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent