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The Alice Hoffman novel turned two-night miniseries was co-executive produced by the husband-wife team, but the idea to turn the New York Times best-selling book into a show was initiated by Downey. Following the couple’s trip to Israel and visit to Masada — the ancient Judean desert-mountain hideout where 1,000 Jews retreated from the Roman armies — Downey read the book years later and pursued the project because “it really resonated with me,” she said.
“Often, history is written by men, about men, and here was this incredible story, but told to us through the minds of these unconventional, but incredibly courageous, women,” said Downey. “A love story set at the darkest of times.”
The exec producer reached out to Hoffman to secure the rights and met with CBS’ Nina Tassler, who partnered with the married team after she coincidentally returned from Masada the week they met to discuss the project. Along with Tassler, Downey and Hoffman, the core creative team is primarily women, including screenwriter Ann Peacock, CBS’ Stacy Mandelberg and female actresses de Pablo, Rachel Brosnahan — Downey loved her House of Cards performance — and Kathryn Prescott.
“We don’t often get to see the historic stories told through the eyes of women, and that really appealed to me,” Downey told The Hollywood Reporter. “They’re strong women. They’re in relationships with one another; there are mothers and daughters, and their friendships show how supportive they are of each other.”
The miniseries, filled with love and romance, tells the story of a group of dovekeeping women in Masada during a tumultuous time in Jewish history. De Pablo, who formerly starred in CBS’ NCIS, was at the top of Downey and Burnett’s list for the leading role of Shirah.
“She has the noisiest fans on the planet. The day we announced that she was joining the Dovekeepers cast, the social media boards lit up in a way that I have never experienced,” said Downey. “To say that her fans are enthusiastic about her return to television is an understatement.”
Downey’s hope is that Americans both will learn about the Jews’ history and journey in Masada and also “be touched by it.” Continued Downey: “[It’s] an opportunity to share with them the courage of this group of persecuted Jews … the triumph of the spirit where courage is greater than fear, love is greater than hate. The story is tragic, but it’s very, very touching.”
The Dovekeepers airs just days before Downey and Burnett’s A.D. The Bible Continues premieres on Easter Sunday on NBC. Sam Neill and Diego Boneta are the two male leads in the four-hour Dovekeepers miniseries.
“I think it’s a story for the times,” continued Downey. “You look across the world, and you see that even today, people are still being persecuted for their faith, and I think that the theme of this series will really resonate for such a time as this.”
Tune into CBS at 9 p.m. on March 31 and April 1 to catch The Dovekeepers.
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