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Yeshiva vet aims to make King David must-see TV

Actors Ian McShane and Chris Egan play reimagined versions of King Saul and King David in the new NBC series 'Kings.' ()

Actors Ian McShane and Chris Egan play reimagined versions of King Saul and King David in the new NBC series ‘Kings.’ ()

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — 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,” he said.

Green sat down to write the pilot for “Kings” while working as writer and co-executive producer for “Heroes.”

“Kings,” which launched Sunday on NBC with a special two-hour premiere, transports the biblical drama of young David, Goliath, King Saul and the prophet Samuel and transports to a contemporary city that looks a lot like a gleaming New York after a thorough scrubbing.

Don’t look for a 21st century swords-and-sandals epic in the series. The political intrigue and corporate power plays have a distinctly Washingtonian ring, and part of the fun is looking 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.

Green, 36, 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 said. “That’s up to each viewer.”

However, the 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 premiere episode, we find the king, in an expensive power suit, ruling over the prosperous Kingdom of Gilboa and 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 Goliath, who appears in a rather unexpected form. At home, David becomes an instant media favorite.

Peace is made but soon broken, followed by new negotiations with prickly Gath officers, who look suspiciously like Russian generals, with square faces and jackets full of medals. On a softer touch, David and Michelle (the beautiful Allison Miller) begin to fall in love.

Green, as creator and executive producer of “Kings,” makes it even tougher to define the precise genre of the series by introducing touches of sci-fi and fantasy. For instance, the emblem of Gilboa is the orange monarch butterfly, and when a successor to the king is anointed, a swarm of butterflies form a crown around the chosen one’s head.

The show’s crew shot a season’s worth of 14 episodes — the premiere contains two — in and around New York, studios in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint and in a mansion on Long Island. With a large cast, opulent palace scenes and shooting in New York, it’s an expensive production.

Green wouldn’t provide an exact budget figure, but he put the cost of an average prime-time TV episode between $2 million and $4.5 million, with “Kings” definitely on the high end.

Green, a native New Yorker, has close ties to Israel. His Tel Aviv-born mother came to the United States after finishing her army service, met Green’s father, and “has visited ever since,” Green said, adding, “Most of my extended family lives in Israel.

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

Green reinforced his boyhood yeshiva studies with a more academic perspective when he took a double major in human biology and religious studies at Stanford University. After college, his interest turned to story writing rather than religion or biology.

“I once created the character of a doctor in one of my shows," he said, "but never became one myself — to the disappointment of my parents.”

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