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CBS brings Stephen King‘s Under the Dome to life on Monday, launching what it hopes will be the event of the summer with the first of its 13-episode adaptation of the prolific author’s bestseller.
Brian K. Vaughan (Lost; Y: The Last Man) adapted the novel, which clocks in at more than 1,000 pages, with ER veteran Neal Baer onboard as showrunner to guide the proceeding as the duo put their own creative stamp on the series. The drama, initially developed for Showtime, revolves around the residents of Chester’s Mill as they cope with the fallout of what happens when a giant dome mysteriously encapsulates their town.
With King’s blessing — he serves as an executive producer alongside Steven Spielberg — Vaughan and Baer are extending UTD‘s timeframe beyond where the novel ends. Each episode will loosely represent a day under the dome for the unlucky denizens of Chester’s Mill.
“We follow and are inspired by many of characters and incidents in the book,” Baer told reporters during a recent conference call. “[The series] goes beyond several weeks of the book, and we provide and create new stories. Brian has said to me that it’s pretty cool to have the book and have a show that follows the format of the dome and goes and does other things as well so you can still be surprised.”
To that end, producers are taking a page from another sci-fi book-to-TV translation — AMC’s The Walking Dead — and putting their own stamp on the property, unveiling new mysteries and solving old ones differently than King did but without losing the overall tone of the property.
“Our show is very faithful to the themes that King put forward,” Vaughan said. “It’s the same Chester’s Mill and same characters, but we take them to new and unexpected places. I love The Walking Dead and am so grateful that the TV show isn’t an exact adaption. It feels like you get something new every week.”
Vaughan, who was a fan of the book — and is even name-checked in it — noted that there are two approaches to adapting beloved literary work: The Walking Dead approach, he said, dramatically changing things (i.e. killing Andrea in the AMC take when the character is still alive in the comics) and HBO’s nearly straight-forward approach to adapting George R.R. Martin‘s Game of Thrones series.
“I’ve already seen the best Under the Dome movie possible — the one that [played] in my head as I was reading the book,” Vaughan said. “There’s no point in doing a direct translation; I’d send people to the source material. I’m excited to be taking this story to new places and doing things that TV will allow that a novel won’t.”
Baer, who penned the novel Kill Switch last year, echoed the sentiment and noted that writing a book allows the author to be everything all at once: costume designer, cinematographer and more, in addition to creating the running narrative. The challenge, he said, was to allow the actors and various departments to create their visions.
“There’s more description in [King’s] novel of what people are thinking,” he commented. “We don’t have voiceover. We have to create it through characters, behavior and circumstances they find themselves in.”
Among the changes are the duration of the series itself — which both Baer and Vaughan hope runs for multiple season and extends far beyond the timeframe featured in the book.
“When King first thought of Under the Dome, he imagined what it would have been like for them to be trapped for months or years at a time,” Vaughan said. “At page 1,000, it had only been a few days and he encouraged us to take it to places that he couldn’t do — as long as we stay true to the ideas and the themes at heart, which I hope we have.”
Other changes include introducing new characters to the mythology, including Natalie Zea‘s mysterious Maxine. The character — similar to Walking Dead‘s Daryl and Merle, who don’t exist in the comics — will appear in the back half of the season and will have ties to central characters, including Big Jim (Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris) and Barbie (Bates Motel‘s Mike Vogel). Other liberties — in addition to how the series ultimately ends — include a longer lifespan for Angie, a local waitress played by Life Unexpected‘s Britt Robertson.
Beyond Maxine and Angie, look for other new characters within Chester’s Mill — some original and others a composite of those featured in the book, Vaughan said, with King offering ideas for both.
Under the Dome airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on CBS. Come back to THR‘s The Live Feed following the episode for more Under the Dome coverage.
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