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‘Kingdom’: The Heartbreaking Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Best Show You Never Saw

On Wednesday, August 2, "Kingdom" will air its series finale. This is how that ending came to be.

Kingdom Season 3 Episode 1 Frank Grillo

Frank Grillo in “Kingdom”

Erik Heinila/DirecTV

TV shows get cancelled all the time, and it’s the brutal nature of the business that some series will end before the creators are ready to say goodbye.

But “Kingdom” wasn’t supposed to end now, and not like this. The Audience Network’s flagship drama about a family of MMA fighters will air its series finale tonight, August 2, after three seasons, 40 episodes, and quite a few rounds in the cage.

Byron Balasco’s drama is only available to DirecTV subscribers, so it didn’t earn great ratings. However, sources told IndieWire that audience share wasn’t the problem. Wednesday’s ending wasn’t written as a series finale; Balasco turned in the script months ago, before it was announced Season 3 would be the last. (The production company, Endemol Shine Group, and distributor, DirecTV, declined to comment.)

“Kingdom” had a difficult road, with marketing challenges, limited options for viewership, and cold shoulders from major awards shows. (Season 3 will be eligible for the 2017 Golden Globes and 2018 Emmys.)

But, fittingly, it knew how to fight. IndieWire spoke to Balasco, along with stars Frank Grillo and Jonathan Tucker, about the many facets of “Kingdom” that led to this ending. Interviews were conducted on set while shooting was still underway, and before the stars and creator knew the series was over. You may not have seen or even heard of the series, but their story is at least equal to the one they created.

Kingdom Season 3 Episode 7 Nick Jonas Frank Grillo

The Three-Year Fight to Get “Kingdom” Seen

Speaking to Frank Grillo is intense. Whether that’s because the lead of “Kingdom” is still in character after finishing an emotional scene as retired fighter Alvey Kulina, or if that’s just him, is unclear. As Alvey, the tall, dark, and heated star just discovered his mother’s suicide note, and ushered his son Nate (Nick Jonas) out of the room before he saw the letter.

It’s a gracious gesture that seemingly contradicts a father who trains his son to get into a ring and take a beating. But that’s who Alvey is: a hard worker and adamant supporter of the sport, and a man who typically has his heart in the right place.

Grillo can relate. “Listen, if I wanted to just act for myself, I’d do it in my basement,” Grillo said. “But it’s not about me: Byron Balasco, who I think is among the top five writers in television right now, does this primarily by himself. He’s got a writing staff, but he does first-page rewrites, and it’d be great to see him get a pat on the back. The guy’s amazing.”

When asked if the subject matter was a hurdle in luring viewership, Grillo was quick to answer: “No way. There’s no way. I travel around the world. I work on movies all over the world. MMA is huge, and MMA is accepted. This conflict that is fighting makes for great drama. People who tune in — and there are a lot of women — don’t really watch it for the MMA. They watch for the story.”

He’s heard this question before. He’s heard it as a rationale for the show’s zero Emmy nominations and its general lack of traction. He even heard it before he signed up for “Kingdom.”

Continue reading for how the passion behind “Kingdom” defined it and a discussion with Byron Balasco right after he wrote the finale.

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