'Of Kings and Prophets' Boss Talks Sexually Explicit Bible Series: "We're Going to Go as Far as We Can"

Of Kings and Prophets Cast Shot - H 2016
Courtesy of ABC

Of Kings and Prophets Cast Shot - H 2016

Of Kings and Prophets won’t be your average Sunday school story.

The biblical saga, which hails from the writers behind the 2014 Ridley Scott movie Exodus: Gods and Kings, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, promises to push the envelope as far as religious series go.

An extended trailer previewed to press at the Television Critics Association winter press tour ahead of the show’s panel revealed the kinds graphic sex scenes typically unwelcome on broadcast television. When asked about the sexually explicit material, showrunner Chris Brancato explained that there are ongoing discussions about where the line is.

“The minute we leave this stage we’ll be fighting with broadcast standards and practices,” he joked, continuing on a more serious note: “We’re going to go as far as we can. … This story is an Old Testament [one that’s] violent [and] sex-drenched. It’s one of the world’s first soap operas. … You will watch a show that is tasteful but that also tells the story you can read if you want to pick up the Bible.”

Brancato — who left Golden Globe nominee Narcos last April for an ABC Studios deal that saw him join the ABC series went on to add that some of the more adult material may not ever air on broadcast and may instead live online. “We have the wonderful ability to put a show on broadcast and then also have an online streaming version, which has less restrictions … on it, so it may be that what you saw in this sexual clip in this trailer would probably be in the online version and not on broadcast,” he explained.

He also emphasized that none of the sex or violence displayed is gratuitous: “The love story is essential to this pilot story. We were seeking in that scene to suggest the pent-up passion and sexuality between these two characters. … There is no discussion about trying to add more sex or violence for the simple sake of doing so. We’re trying to tell the story that is in 1 and 2 Samuel, which has plenty of sex and violence on its own.” Exec producer Jason Reed added that they’ve actually had to scale back some of the violence as it’s depicted in the biblical text in order to meet broadcast standards.

Cooper and Collage penned the script and are also serving as executive producers alongside Reed, Reza Aslan and Mahyad Tousi. The series is described as a saga of faith, ambition and betrayal as told through the eyes of a battle-weary king, a powerful and resentful prophet and a resourceful young shepherd on a collision course with destiny.

An early favorite at the network, the religious drama received a straight-to-series 15-episode order last April but then in June was delayed until midseason. Brancato offered up an explanation for the schedule change: “There was a great deal of excitement to do an event series, to do something big and special and a little bit out of the box for the network [and] essentially this pilot was put into the traditional pilot-making mode [and] what wasn’t fully calculated was the fact that this show is set 1000 B.C. and it needs special tender loving care. It can’t be put on the traditional pilot track like a contemporary pilot that shoots in stages here in L.A. or anywhere else,” he said, noting that the sets and the costumes in the original pilot weren’t aged enough.

“ABC and Paul Lee particularly was smart enough to see that if they want something special, you actually have to spend more time, more money, you have to search the world for the very best actors,” said Brancato. Two and a half months ended up being the amount of time needed to prep the show that takes place 3,000 years ago. Brancato compared the reshoot to HBO tossing out Game of Thrones’ original pilot and starting over again. “My guess would be for much of the same reason — they rushed it into production,” he said.

The series continues the wave of biblical dramas across cable and broadcast networks, following the success of History's record-breaking 10-part miniseries The Bible. During his half hour in the hot seat, network head Lee said that the religious saga is a big swing for which he has high expectations, adding: “I think they’re pulling it off.”

Of Kings and Prophets premieres Tuesday, March 8 at 10 p.m. on ABC.