One of TV's most well-remembered miniseries was "Masada," the Emmy-winning 1981 saga of the conflict between Jews and Romans centered at the title fortress in 70 C.E. The story gets a different slant in "The Dovekeepers," Alice Hoffman's bestseller about several women caught in the battle; it's now a CBS miniseries, executive-produced by spouses Roma Downey and Mark Burnett ("The Bible") and airing Tuesday and Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Ch. 2.
Former "NCIS" co-star Cote de Pablo returns to the network's Tuesday lineup temporarily as Shirah, a single mother who is one of those literally tending to doves amid the violence. Rachel Brosnahan ("Manhattan," "House of Cards"), Kathryn Prescott ("Finding Carter"), Sam Neill and Diego Boneta ("Pretty Little Liars") also are among the principal stars of the drama filmed in Malta.
"I absolutely fell in love with the story," Downey says. "I had been to Masada a few years ago and had been so profoundly touched by the story of a persecuted people who, in the face of that persecution, had stood up for what they believed in . . . where courage was greater than fear, and faith and love was greater than hate, and the power of sacrifice was greater than war. And I was sure that the rights had been taken, but I reached out to Alice, and I went to Boston and I met with her."
Downey ultimately did acquire those rights, and, as it happened, CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler also had visited Masada recently. They struck a deal for Downey to work again with the network, where she starred in the series "Touched by an Angel" for nine seasons.
De Pablo had to master working with actual doves for "The Dovekeepers," and she also had been at Masada roughly a decade earlier. She notes that what she recalls most about the site is "that incredible heat . . . and the view. And when you hear the story, the only thing you can do as an actor is to put yourself in a position where you honestly think, 'How could these people go through this?' I mean, it was a massive, massive story, what ended up happening to them."
"The Dovekeepers" is the first drama venture to emerge from United Artists Media Group, through its faith-based and Downey-supervised LightWorkers Media division, since she and Burnett began running the studio. Burnett's successful unscripted series -- ABC's "Shark Tank," CBS' "Survivor" and NBC's "The Apprentice" and "The Voice" -- also are under the United Artists banner now.
It's certainly no coincidence "The Dovekeepers" is timed for the Passover and Easter season, nor is it for Burnett and Downey's NBC series "A.D. The Bible Continues," premiering April 5. With other projects (including a "Ben-Hur" remake) in progress, Downey says, "It's been a really great time. As a woman in my 50s, it's often a time when people are taking a step back in their careers. And I feel really encouraged that I have stepped forward into, really, a whole new chapter of my career as a producer."