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From MMA training to tattoo design: Creating the look of 'Kingdom'

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Setting a scripted television show in the world of mixed martial arts means accurately portraying a very physical subculture of society. So when Byron Balasco created Kingdom, he made sure to craft every detail, from the setting down to the individual tattoos each of the characters would wear with pride. It was a job Balasco took very seriously, because he knew that through Kingdom, he was not only introducing many fans to a new world, but he was also creating an accurate portrayal for those already familiar.

With that in mind, Balasco decided he had to focus just as much on the exterior of the show as he did the interior. First, he chose the setting of Venice, California. “There’s a lot of collision of culture,” Balasco said of Venice. “There’s a lot of glamour and sexiness to it and there’s these Southern California ideals, but there’s a tone of grit and edge to the place that I think is great for our show. There’s still a rawness there if you look in the right places.”

From there, Balasco turned to the look of the characters. Physically, he needed to find actors who couldn’t just get into fighting shape but who could also master the movements and general feel of a fighter. And for that, actors Frank Grillo, Nick Jonas, Jonathan Tucker, and Matt Lauria attended the fight camp of UFC fighter Joe “Daddy” Stevenson, who later served as an MMA tech on the show. For several weeks before filming, the guys drove out to Pomona, California where they underwent two-a-days with real fighters.

“They got their asses kicked,” Balasco said. “All of those guys leaned into it. It’s not about lifting weights, it’s really a way these guys move. You could go into a room of 100 people and pick out the fighter in two seconds. These guys really did a great job of getting all their movement down, even when they’re not fighting, just the way they move through the world is different.” READ FULL STORY

DirecTV picks up 'Kingdom' for 20 more episodes

DirecTV’s newest original show Kingdom has only aired two episodes of its 10-episode first season, and it’s already made its mark on the network.

DirecTV has ordered 20 more episodes of the MMA-centric series from creator Byron Balasco. Although DirecTV hasn’t released ratings, it said in a release that Kingdom “has proven to be one of Audience Network’s most popular shows of all time.”

Production on the new episodes will begin in spring 2015, with the first round of 10 episodes airing that fall. The following 10 episodes will then air in 2016.

'Kingdom' creator on crafting a gritty family drama in the MMA world

When Byron Balasco tells people that his new show Kingdom is about Mixed Martial Arts, their response tends to be, “Oh, so it’s a reality show?” It’s not a wild notion, considering that we live in a world with very few (if any) scripted shows about MMA. But for Balasco, the idea never seemed far-fetched.

“I had been a fan of MMA for years and years and years, way back even before it became what it is, like 10-12 years ago even,” Balasco said. “And it always seemed like a great place to set a show because it’s such an interesting cross-section of characters. It’s people from a lot of different backgrounds and it’s definitely a subculture, which is a great place to go in, and it has a lot of universal themes that I think even if you’re not a fan of fighting, you can relate to.”

But taking that idea and turning it into a television show took years, mostly because Balasco knew that his show would live or die on the timing of his pitch. “I had this idea to do a show there for years but the timing wasn’t right in terms of the appetite for it. If you just say what the show is about, people either think it’s a reality show or they somehow assume it’s low-brow or just focused on violence because there’s a preconceived notion of what a show about the sport would be and what the sport is, period.”

So instead of pitching the premise and dealing with the many preconceived notions that surround the MMA world, Balasco started writing a spec script. “I made it the show I wanted it to be which is about the characters. It’s a family drama. Once I did that, I think people were able to see the potential of this show,” he said.

And now, Kingdom has a 10-episode order on DirecTV, with the first episode premiering tonight. Just like that, Balasco has successfully disproved the preconceived notions of the network and will now have to see if he can do the same with the general public.

For those who don’t know what Kingdom is about, it follows Frank Grillo as Alvey Kulina, an ex-MMA fighter who runs a gym in Venice, California. Also a father, Alvey has two sons: Up-and-coming fighter Nate (Nick Jonas), and fighter-turned-drug-addict Jay (Jonathan Tucker). Add in one of Alvey’s greatest fighters, Ryan (Matt Lauria), a former champion recently released from jail, and you’ve got the competitors. From there, the show also stars Kiele Sanchez as Lisa, Alvey’s girlfriend (and Ryan’s ex), and Joanna Going as Christina, Alvey’s ex-wife and the mother of their children, who has taken to prostitution to sustain her drug habit. At its core, Kingdom is a family drama about “not only the family within the show but the extended family of the sport and the gym and the neighborhood,” Balasco said.

And at the center of it all is Grillo, who played a similar role in the 2011 film Warrior and has a background in fighting. “Frank was the first person that was cast in the show because part of what we needed to do to get the show picked up was attract the right guy for the role of Alvey,” Balasco said. “[Frank] was the first guy that I wanted, and the first guy that I went to, and the first guy that I talked to. You should always have a few other people in mind in case something falls through, but I just couldn’t think that way because he was so perfect for the role. He’s been fighting for his whole life and is really highly trained, so to find a guy who can act the way he can act and has the physicality he does, it’s like you’d be a f—ing moron not to cast him.”

From there, the rest of the cast fell into place and Balasco turned his focus to the style of the show, which he described as “polished vérité.” “We try to make it feel as real and authentic as possible, but we also want it to feel cinematic,” he said. “So it’s not documentary-style or shaky camera-style. We spend a lot of time composing what we’re doing.”

For viewers, a good point of comparison might be the award-winning series, Friday Night Lights. Much like Friday Night Lights, Kingdom is about a sport, which will play a central role but is not the focal point. Also like Friday Night Lights, Kingdom is very focused on authenticity and has a gritty, realistic feel. “We tend to get compared to [Friday Night Lights] a lot. We’re a little more raw and we can kind of go a little bit further in certain areas just because of where we are, but yeah, that’s a nice comparison, certainly, because that was a great show,” Balasco said.

At the end of the day, Kingdom is a character-driven show about a subculture that has yet to be explored in scripted television. Now, the question is whether viewers are willing to step into the octagon.

Kingdom premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on DirecTV.

Matt Lauria, Nick Jonas throw punches in new 'Kingdom' trailer

If Warrior were made into a TV show, swapping Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton for Matt Lauria and Nick Jonas, you’d have Kingdom, a new series from DirecTV.

In the first trailer for Kingdom, we’re introduced to a family drama set in the world of mixed martial arts. At the center of it all is Warrior star Frank Grillo, who once again plays a trainer and the owner of a gym. Jonas stars as Grillo’s prize-fighting son, while Jonathan Tucker plays Jonas’ older, slightly darker brother. Friday Night Light‘s Matt Lauria also comes into play as a fighter recently released on parole and trying to come back into their world.

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