May 30, 2013 1:04pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Under the Dome': 10 Things to Know About CBS' Stephen King Adaptation
CBS pulled the wrapper off its upcoming summer drama Under the Dome on Thursday, with The Hollywood Reporter among the critics getting a first look at its adaptation of Stephen King's best-seller.
The drama, which stars Breaking Bad's Dean Norris, follows the residents of Chester's Mill as they cope with the fallout of what happens when a giant dome mysteriously encapsulates their town.
Here are 10 things to know about the series, which hails from Lost's Brian K. Vaughan and ER's Neal Baer.
1. Producers are billing the drama as the "TV event of the summer," and with good reason: The special effects in the premiere episode alone feature gory amputations, car crashes and a cow brutally cut in half when the dome arrives to seal the town off from the rest of society. And there will be bigger and better visuals, with a massive explosion arriving in the second episode.
2. Don't call it a miniseries. While the summer series is 13 episodes, producers noted that there very much is the potential for it to continue on with a second season. Baer, who noted that both ER and now Law & Order: SVU lasted for 15 seasons, is optimistic that Dome could follow that trajectory. "I hope it's a trend," Baer told reporters with a laugh following the screening. He and Vaughan both agree that the 13-episode format best suits this series. "It's all killer and no filler," Vaughan said of the advantage to doing a shorter, cable-style run versus the traditional 24-episode broadcast format.
3. King's book -- which clocks in at more than 1,000 pages -- takes place over a week, with the CBS series already stretching beyond that time frame as of episode 10. Most episodes take place over the course of a day, producers noted. Vaughan said that King has been supportive of extending the series well beyond his book, offering positive feedback on detours from his story. "When we first started talking to Stephen, we came up with the idea of the town potentially being trapped for years at a time, and that's something that [King said] you guys could get to do that I didn't," Vaughan recalled, noting it might necessitate a different ending to the series. "We pitched Stephen a far-out, big-swing idea for this to go several years, a different ending, and he was really excited by it."
4. Speaking of the author, producers noted that should Dome earn a second-season renewal, King would like to write an episode. But as for now, he's been content to let Baer and Vaughan take the lead. "He said, 'To quote Elvis, "It's your baby, rock it." ' " Vaughan said.
5. There will be answers to the obvious questions almost immediately. Yes, the dome encapsulates the town -- so why can't the residents dig under it and go around that way? Look for the answer to that in the second episode. Producers said they will answer early on -- care of two young characters looking to escape -- why the people trapped inside are truly trapped.
6. There will be death. While King's book is notably dark, the series didn't lose much when the project jumped from Showtime (where it was first developed) to corporate sibling CBS. "We have a 'Heaven Board' in the writers' room," Baer noted, adding that there's "at least one person in heaven -- maybe" so far.
7. Vaughan, who said he felt as if he were raised by King and fellow EP Steven Spielberg's work, said Dome blends the best of both of their worlds. "Steven Spielberg sees the best in humanity and Stephen King is always seeing the worst," he said. "But there are similarities: they're both really aggressive humanists who love people so much and throwing them in extraordinary situations and seeing what happens."
8. Dome won't be The Killing. The premiere presents scores of mysteries: the relationship between Big Jim (Norris) and his estranged son, Junior (Alexander Koch), why its young residents have seizures and see stars and lines and countless more. "We've done a pretty good job not stringing everyone along; we've made a conscious decision that if we present a mystery, we will solve it for you before we start introducing new ones," Vaughan said, noting there still would be mysteries that could last for years, including perhaps the ultimate question of just why the dome covered Chester's Mill. "We will learn a great deal about the dome by the end of the season but maybe not all of the answers. I worked on Lost a little bit and realized that if your show is only about one central mystery -- there have been a lot of shows after Lost -- but Lost succeeded because people cared about these characters so deeply. The mythology is an added bonus, but it's about revealing characters. I'm not too concerned that people will tune out if they're not getting the biggest answer as long as they love the people on the screen."
9. As the producers noted in March at WonderCon, the series isn't a postapocalyptic drama in the way that others (i.e. The Walking Dead) are. Instead, Dome will depict what happens immediately after the town is shut off from the rest of the world and what happens when people are no longer being paid for their jobs, when money in the bank is meaningless and resources begin to be depleted. It will retain "some elements of everyday life," Vaughan said. To that end, the point of view will largely be told from those inside the dome, keeping Chester's Mill the show's primary location.
10. Like other adaptations, there are new characters being added to CBS' take. Among them, an interracial lesbian couple with a daughter who are driving through town and are among those trapped when the dome arrives. The goal, Baer noted, was to add a "socially relevant" storyline to the series -- which is set in Anytown USA instead of Maine, as it is in King's source material.
Under the Dome premieres at 10 p.m. on Monday, June 24, on CBS. Check out the first-look key art above.