Stephen King on the set of ‘Under the Dome’/Photo © Michael Tackett/CBS
The big thing that Neal Baer and Brian K. Vaughan, Executive Producer and Creator, respectively, of CBS’s “Under the Dome,” want you to know is that while it is based on the 2009 Stephen King novel of the same name, the show won’t be a straight adaptation of the book. Instead, it’s something that will, they hope, stand on its own.
“We follow and we’re inspired by many of the characters in the book and many of the incidents, but because it’s a show that goes beyond several weeks of the book – we provide and create new stories,” Baer explained on a recent conference call with reporters.
“I think our show is very faithful to the themes that Stephen King put forward in Under the Dome,” added Vaughan.
The story centers around the small town of Chester’s Mill, whose residents experience the mysterious appearance of an invisible and impenetrable barrier of unknown origins that forms a dome around the town and cuts off the residents from the rest of the world. The conflict of dwindling supplies, political power struggles, small town secrets, and trying to discover the reason for the dome’s appearance all play a part in the drama.
The show is produced by DreamWorks Television and was originally intended for Showtime. For Vaughan, who wrote the pilot and has been with the venture since 2011, it was something of a passion project. “I’ve been obsessed with Stephen King since I was young,” he said. He noted that, while he loved the book, he was captured by the opportunity to build something new off it. “I was really excited when DreamWorks said they didn’t want to do it necessarily as a straight adaptation, and that they wanted to use the book as … a launching pad for something that could potentially be an ongoing series.”
Still, when the series was switched from a premium cable channel production to broadcast TV, Vaughan admitted he had reservations. “I was really worried that, in the change from cable to network, we would have to soften the show or change it,” he said. Thankfully, Vaughan explained, the network was supportive of keeping the show as he originally developed it.
It was during the transition to CBS that Baer, a veteran of network juggernauts “ER” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” joined on as the showrunner. The pairing with Vaughan, who wrote the renowned comic books Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina and cut his teeth writing for TV on “Lost,” may seem odd, but the two claim their storytelling sensibilities work well together.
“I was a huge ‘ER’ fan,” Vaughan said. “That was one of my favorite shows of all time and I think that in a lot of ways our show has more in common with something like ‘ER’ than something like ‘Lost.’ It’s really a character-driven drama. It’s been fantastic working with Neal has a showrunner. He’s in many ways the ideal candidate for this.”
According to Baer, Vaughan’s background in the comics was instrumental in bringing Under the Dome to TV. “Brian has such a great sense of mystery and pace with comic books and graphic novels that he’s done and also a real fierce sense of story that helps, because this show burns through story like crazy,” Baer said. “[The show] has the elements of a great graphic novel in terms of pace, incident, and effect. It also has character and real depth of who these people are.”
There are currently two popular shows that illustrate the different techniques one can use in adapting a book or literary series for TV: the “Game of Thrones” approach, which does its best to bring as much of the original story to the new medium; or “The Walking Dead” method, which uses the source material as a jumping-off point for new storylines and characters. “Under the Dome” follows the latter tactic.
According to Baer and Vaughan, the show will include additional storylines and characters not in the book. And if the show continues on for more seasons, then we’ll see more trials and tribulations for the residents of Chester’s Mill as they live under the dome. But that might strike fans of the book as odd, since the narrative of the novel doesn’t stretch on for very long. That, of course, is the biggest change in adapting a single book for a television series. A novel has a definite end, while a TV series can continue on into later seasons. So a direct adaptation would mean translating that definitive ending, which would best be done by a movie or miniseries – something Baer and Vaughan are adamant they have no interest in.
“I’ve already seen the best Under the Dome movie possible,” explained Vaughan, “which is the one that played in my head as I was reading the book. And I feel like there really wouldn’t be any point in doing that direct translation.” Though he’s quick to correct any King fan who might take umbrage and accuse the show of diluting the writer’s work. “I never would have deviated if Stephen King hadn’t been really supportive of it,” he said, and then explained that the master of modern horror, who also has an Executive Producer credit on the show, encouraged the writers and producers to take the story to places he didn’t and do something new with it.
“We even talked about – if we’re lucky enough to come back for a second season – him writing an episode,” said Vaughan, who added, “Stephen has just been so supportive. He … gave us ideas for the new characters as well as for characters from the book. So he’s very much on board.”
When asked if viewers should keep an eye out for one of King’s notorious cameos that appear in many of his adapted work, Baer replied that there were no plans for the author to make an appearance on the show, but then added: “But if he wants to…”
The response solicited a laugh from Vaughan, who explained that duo were open to “Stephen King: Actor.” but that they would “rather have his talents behind the camera instead of in front of it.” Vaughan paused and then said, “Even if you don’t see him crossing the street in the background, Stephen King is on every frame of what we shoot.”