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CCI: All The “Kings” Men

by  in Movie News, TV News Comment
CCI: All The “Kings” Men

Last Thursday morning at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, “Heroes” actor Greg Grunberg moderated a panel for the upcoming NBC drama, “Kings,” with executive producer/creator Michael Green (“Heroes”), director Francis Lawrence (“I am Legend”), Executive Producer Erwin Soiff (“The Day the Earth Stood Still”), and cast members Chris Egan (“Aragon”), Susanna Thompson (“Star Trek”), Sebastian Stan (“Gossip Girl”) and newcomer Allison Miller. Ian McShane was scheduled to appear, but was unfortunately stuck in traffic. Green spoke to McShane just prior to the panel, and relayed a message from the star in the idiom of his “Deadwood” character Al Swearengen: “If these goddamn cocksuckers don’t get out of the goddamn road, I’ll slit their goddamn throats.” CBR News was on hand to get the details about the small-screen, modern-day interpretation of the David and Goliath myth.

Grunberg, who doesn’t actually have anything to do with the production, loved the pilot so much that when his former “Heroes” writer Michael Green invited him to moderate one of Comic-Con’s first panels, bright and early on Thursday morning, the actor jumped at the chance. In fact, the only problem Grunberg had with the series was that he was not in it. “Any chance of a guest role?” Grunberg chided Green. “Maybe a mind-reading relative of the king?”

Before Grunberg introduced his fellow panelists, he showed a clip of the first 20 minutes of the two-hour “Kings” premiere. In “Kings'” alternate history of America, the nation is ruled by King Silas Benjamin (McShane). The king addresses a thousands at the base of a massive skyscraper, the centerpiece to the city of Shiloh, a 20 year project built over the war-torn remains of New York City. “It’s not popular to speak of God,” the King says, “but I do so now and publicly because I feel blessed.” The symbol of Benjamin’s regime is a butterfly, signifying the head of state’s journey from soldier to monarch.

Reverend Samuels, who was scheduled to give the benediction, had car trouble, but found his woes resolved quickly by a young man named David, whose father had given his life the in civil war that had ravaged the country so many years earlier.

But the peace the citizens of Shiloh enjoy is fleeting: a mere two years later, they find themselves on the brink of another civil war. When forces loyal to their enemy, the Gath, ambush one of their platoons, King Benjamin decrees that they will not negotiate for the release of the hostages. But the monarch eats his words when he learns it was his son’s platoon that was hit.

David, the one-time mechanic, now finds himself on the front line of the simmering conflict, outgunned by a line of nigh-invincible Gath tanks called Goliaths. Despite the fact that nary a soldier has survived an encounter with a Goliath, David, against orders, braves the firing line and rescues one of the hostages. In the process, he becomes the first man to destroy one of Gath’s Goliaths. It isn’t until King Benjamin arrives via chopper that David realizes that the man whose life he saved was Jack Benjamin, the king’s son. Newspaper headlines read “David Slays Goliath,” and a new chapter in the life of the mechanic-turned-soldier begins.

After introducing the panelists, Grunberg prompted Green to talk about how he came up with the show. Inspired by the success of mold breaking shows like “Heroes,” Green realized the current TV landscape was open to more than just cop shows. When he got the opportunity to pitch a show to NBC, since he already had a fulfilling job at “Heroes,” Green decided to go with “the weirdest fucking idea” he had. To his surprise, the network was onboard.

“The network was so supportive, it actually scared me,” Lawrence said. “Something had to be wrong for them to be so happy.” But it turned out that the showrunners and the network execs were just on the same page.

Grunberg asked how feature film director Lawrence adjusted to working within a TV budget. “Budgets are just parameters,” Lawrence said; you never have enough money, no matter the budget, but that a lot can be done within those parameters. One big cost-saving measure was the decision to make “Kings” a location-based show, saving money on building elaborate sets by filming in New York.

Stoff said he was paid handsomely to put the “Kings” pilot script in Lawrence’s hands. That said, Stoff admitted that “Kings” was the first and only TV project he’d seen fit to recommend to the director. “There were so many elements in this I knew would appeal to him,” Stoff said.

Eager to get back to work on the heels of “I am Legend,” Lawrence read the script and promptly said yes to the project. Lawrence said that most TV pilots are a good starting point, but that the “Kings” pilot was so well written that what we see on the small screen come February of 2009 will be nearly identical to the original script Stoff had passed on to him. Stoff and Lawrence had already been working on a classic “David and Goliath” at Universal, and that coincidence, as well as the butterfly motifs that run through both projects, was difficult to ignore.

Lawrence said that it was a tall order casting someone who could portray both David’s innocent, down-home origins and the complex political figure he becomes, but that Egan definitely fit the bill. Thompson, who plays King Benjamin’s queen, said that her casting process took place entirely over streaming video conferences, and that when she was offered the part, she had to be on a plane the next morning. Stan, who plays Jack Benjamin, said that after his audition he was so confident he was going to get the role that he took a picture of himself in order to remember the way his hair had been styled. King Benjamin’s daughter is played by Allison Miller.

Grunberg then opened up the panel to questions from the audience. One fan asked about the religious aspects of the series, and Green said he didn’t see the series as a religious show, but more of an archetypal hero’s journey.

McShane never did make the panel, but one fan asked his co-stars what it was like working with the veteran actor. “He’s a puppy,” Egan said. Thompson characterized McShane as “crazy, like a force of nature.”

The two-hour “Kings” premiere is tentatively scheduled to air in February of 2009. “Set your TiVos to February,” Grunberg said.

Now discuss this story in CBR’s TV/Film forum.

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