Busted: Michael Green
The creator of NBC's new series Kings discusses how he's brought a modern aesthetic to the Old Testament story of King David
Since breaking into television writing back in 1998, Michael Green has worked on a number of network and cable television shows, including Sex and the City and Smallville. Most recently, he was a writer and co-executive producer on NBC’s Emmy-nominated Heroes. NBC’s new drama series, Kings (two-hour premiere on Sunday March 15 at 8pm on NBC), marks Green’s first opportunity to work on a series he created himself. The modern retelling of the Biblical story of King David stars Golden Globe winner Ian McShane (Deadwood) as King Silas Benjamin who worries that David Shepherd (played by Chris Egan) will supplant him as king of the fictional kingdom of Gilboa. If the engaging two hour premiere is any indication of what the rest of the season holds, Green has transformed an ancient Biblical narrative and infused it with modern-day relevance.
BustedHalo: You broke into television writing with Sex and the City and now you’ve created a drama surrounding an Old Testament story. So, you’ve gone from Carrie Bradshaw to King David. That’s quite a career arc so far. How did that happen?
Michael Green: Well I started in comedy and I have fairly broad interests. Like most writers I really don’t want to be pigeon-holed as one thing or another, so I always try to look for the next thing I do to be different from the thing I’m doing.
BH: The story of King David is an iconic Old Testament story — were you raised in a very religious household?
MG: Not very religious. I was educated in a Jewish parochial school system. Known as yeshiva, but called by us—we called it Jew School. It’s very similar to Catholic school that a lot of people on your sight might know, but rabbis instead of nuns. My mom is Israeli, so she wanted me and my sibling to be conversed in the religion and culture. .
BH: How long have you wanted to do this story?
MG: It’s a story that I’ve been interested in for a long time. The decision to pursue it came about two and a half years ago. I’d always thought it was something I’d have to do much later in life, when HBO would be willing to let me make it. I originally imagined it as a period piece, but then I thought, “Why wait?” — the TV audiences have grown so sophisticated in the last few years that with all the fantastic shows being done by HBO, by Showtime — you know, Lost, Alias, Heroes — all these shows have really brought up the level and audiences have grown so accustomed to, or so willing to, or so eager to dive into a story and to pick at its nuance. People treat The Wire like a novel, and it’s written like a novel and it rewards that deep viewing. And because of the great work done by all those shows, I felt like it was a fair time to try to tell this sort of novelistic story.
BH: I felt a kinship on some level between your show and HBO’s Rome . You get to do a modern re-telling of the story of King David. What made you decide not to do it as a period piece?
MG: Mostly, cost. It’s cost-prohibitive. It’s nearly impossible to do something accurately in a period piece. The reason Rome didn’t continue was because — it was absolutely brilliant, I thought it was a wonderful show — it was so costly that it couldn’t sustain itself, as I understand it. I could be guessing, but that’s what I’ve been told, that it never was able to gain the ratings required to justify its cost. And in order to do period in a way that isn’t silly, in a way that is authentic, it’s just incredibly costly. And plus, doing it period would have made it a much more accurate telling, and I was interested in taking the story and going further with it. You know, there’s a lot to draw from in the original text but not enough to sustain a hundred episodes of dialogue, let’s say. So by creating a ‘remove,’ and setting it in modern times, or with a modern aesthetic, anyway, we were free to continue interpreting. It was convenient. And the other thing was to make it really relatable to a modern America.
BH: The pop culture landscape is strewn with people trying to intersect pop culture and religious themes. Was that any concern of yours going in to this, about taking on that terrain?
MG: No, I guess I was stupid enough not to be concerned about that. A lot of people, when they hear the premise, have predispositions about what it is — either as too religious or not religious enough — and I can’t change their minds with anything except the show itself. So I’d encourage them to watch and decide for themselves.
BH: What do you hope people — in the modern re-telling of the story of King David — what do you hope people come away with?
MG: I just hope they enjoy the storytelling and the characters and their interactions. You know, my goal is really just that: storytelling. And I hope they enjoy the experience. I hope they are intrigued enough to come back for more because I think the stories get more interesting as time goes on. I think one of the reasons everyone has a natural curiosity about the story of King David is because it is familiar, even if you’re not familiar with it. It’s just so much a part of our cultural DNA — so many of the Old Testament stories, but specifically the hero’s journey associated with David — that I think they’ll find it compelling. Everyone at least knows David and Goliath. They might not know what comes after, but to my mind, that’s where it gets interesting.
BH: I have to say, that David and Goliath scene is very powerful, but I’d say the most powerful scene in the pilot is certainly when he goes back to the battlefield after his brother, Eli, is killed.
MG: It’s a very earnest moment.
BH: How close did that adhere to the Old Testament story?
MG: That would be fiction. But it’s inspired by — you know, David becomes this great elegist — famous, at least in religious circles, for his poetry and the poetry at least ascribed to him, true or not. And so I wanted to represent an awakening of that poetic skill in him.
BH: David, certainly later on in his life, is not always the hero, though.
MG: No, he begins as a bit of an innocent, but no one stays innocent forever. Sad for them, very good for story.
BH: How far have you taken the scripting so far?
MG: We have written, shot, and nearly edited the entire first season, which is comprised of thirteen hours. So we were given that order and we had the good fortune of being able to complete it in its entirety before it even airs, which is a very rare thing for broadcast network, broadcast television. So we’re really happy about that. So the viewers don’t have to fear getting attached before the story wraps up.
BH: You’re not going to wrap the entire story, though.
MG: No, no. It’s not the entire series, it’s the first season. So we get to tell at least this chapter of David’s life, and of Silas’s life — for that matter — in its completion. We hope to tell many more chapters.