A New Kindgom

NBC’s Kings has proven the most fascinating new television series of the mid-season. A reinterpretation of the classic King David tale translated into modern times, monarchy intact.

New York City serves as the basis for the new capital of this modern kingdom, Shiloh, retrofitted with visual effects and apt production design as done so effectively in director Francis E. Lawrence’s previous work, I Am Legend.

A long, straight road leads to Shiloh’s centerpiece landmark, evoking at least in effect, the East-West axis of Hitler and Speer’s Welthauptstadt Germania. Except here there is no Arch of Triumph or Volkshalle, rather a prominent skyscraper, its black angled facades reminiscent of a stealth fighter shrouding the monarchy’s political machinations. Its position in the skyline unimpeded by competing distinctive skyscrapers; the Chrysler and Empire State Building are nowhere to be seen.

This prominent digital skyscraper rests atop the New York Public Library at Bryant Park with the same forceful effect as New York’s Hearst Headquarters by Foster + Partners & Adamson Associates. A modernist glass skyscraper thrusting out of the old Art Deco, or in this case, Beux Arts structure.

However the King’s throne room remains firmly rooted within modernity, doing away with what would be corny artifice in this modern setting. Rather King Silas sits at the length of a conference table, his senior staff opposite with members of the court in the tiered seating beyond. His back toward a massive glass curtain wall overlooking the prosperous empire. In actuality we’re seeing Columbus Circle from within the Time Warner Building’s Allen Room. A performance space, five stories up, flanked by a 150 foot glass cable-net conceived by James Carpenter Design & Associates.

No Kingdom would be complete without a palace. Here the substitue is The Apthorp, condominium residences “modeled after the Pitti Palace in Florence and brought to life by the passion of William Waldorf Astor.” An appropriately gilded and stately selection with stressed verticals that epitomizes the notion of a palace within modern architecture. The interior is an equally fabled residence, The Hempstead House in Long Island, formerly occupied by the Gould and later Guggenheim families, also doubles as the King’s country home. Yet their is a restraint to the gilded stylings fitting for modernity, avoiding an over abundance of ornamentation in the vein of Versailles, that would have Alfred Loos rolling in his grave.

An arguably abstract form of the king set within a butterfly serves as the Kingdom’s insignia, plastered at every opportunity as one would expect in such a civilization. Butterflies represent a visual manifestation of God’s will, a running motif in the pilot. The design is set against orange colors, uncommon for a nation’s flag, perhaps inspired by the orange fabric Gates that briefly filled New York’s Central Park in February 2005 courtesy artists, Christo and Jean-Claude.

Unfortunately the costly Kings debuted to pitiful ratings. Its remaining episodes now relegated to Saturday’s at 8pm, commencing June 13th with aired episodes available for free on Hulu or NBC.com. Kings may represent a death knell for such bold creative endeavours on NBC. A network that has lagged in fourth for most of the decade after being number one during the nineties. Though as Kings proves, this is not due to a lack of quality programming also indicated by the deserving inclusion of Friday Night Lights & Life on AFI’s annual Top Ten list or highly entertaining fare like Chuck. Their woes have led to Jay Leno taking over the weekdays 10pm slot come fall.

New York as a base for television series also appears shortlived. Spurred by a 35% tax credit that attracted a bounty of shows from Fringe and Ugly Betty to Life on Mars and Castle, New York State capped the credit at half a billion dollars. The credit lasted a mere ten months and a $350 million dollar extension is a short term measure. Subsequently, Fringe has already moved production to Vancouver and without a tax break, the attrition will only continue due to the additional costs of shooting in New York.

Savour it while it lasts.

Images from the television series Kings. Copyright NBC.