Somewhat surprisingly, CBS has bypassed the usual pilot song-and-dance and gone ahead and ordered thirteen episodes of “Under the Dome,” an adaptation of Stephen King‘s beloved doorstop-sized novel, adapted by comic book creator Brian K. Vaughan and executive produced by Steven Spielberg. The series should begin airing/scaring the crap out of audiences next summer.
The novel, which, along with the similarly lengthy and ambitious “Lisey’s Story” and “11/22/63” (which has Jonathan Demme attached to direct), represent a recent late-career creative resurgence for the author, concerns a small Maine town that finds itself cut off from the outside world when a giant transparent dome descents from the sky. From that fairly simple conceit, King spins things wildly, putting its vary array of characters through their paces (its lead character is a charismatic ex-army guy named Barbie who happens to be passing through the town) and turning up the intensity and claustrophobia to an almost unbearable degree. (We remember slamming the book shut a couple of times we were so shocked.) It’s pure pop entertainment, breathlessly paced and brilliantly told, and while things peter out towards the end, it doesn’t ruin the voluminous fun that the other 99% of the book represents.
According to the Deadline report, Vaughan, who wrote the series, “kept the general conceit and many of the characters from the book but also introduced new characters as regulars and tweaked some details and backstory for existing ones.” The ending has been reconfigured, too, allowing for another season (or two). The same report states that King has given his blessing to all of the changes.
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Last we heard about “Under the Dome” it was still set up at Showtime, a sister channel for CBS, but when Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment (which is producing the series) sensed that Showtime was waffling, they were able to take it to different networks. Showtime President David Nevins, who was a fan of the project despite not picking it up for his network, recommended it to CBS. And the rest is history. CBS has attached showrunner Neal Baer to oversee the series’ day-to-day operations and tapped original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” director Niels Arden Oplev to direct the first episode. It will air alongside new episodes of “Unforgettable.” We wonder if Vaughan will have to tone down the intensity of the episodes, due to the fact that it’s shifting from pay cable to network television, although given the disgustingly copious amounts of blood and guts featured on CBS prime-time fare like “CSI,” we think it’ll be just fine.
Vaughan has some television background, working on ABC‘s influential “Lost” for three seasons (he was instrumental in shaping the series’ bizarre fourth and fifth seasons), but is known primarily for his work in comic books, where he created series like “Ex Machina” and “Y the Last Man” and graphic novels like the award-winning “Pride of Baghdad,” about a group of lions that are released from the Baghdad zoo following the American invasion. (Yes, it’s just as brilliant as it sounds.) He is also responsible for creating this year’s very best new comic book in the form of “Saga,” a savvy sci-fi/fantasy deconstruction that might be some of the most compelling, emotionally resonant he’s ever done. As a screenwriter, Vaughan sold his spec “Roundtable,” about a modern day band of knights, to DreamWorks, for millions of dollars, but we haven’t heard much about it since then. A couple of years ago he made waves with another spec he wrote, called “The Vault,” which involved a heist set in an underground seed vault, which was, again, quite amazing, but nothing ever happened with it.
King, for his part, is seeing a flurry of activity surrounding his work. Despite the repeated failure of Ron Howard to get a massive, multi-part adaptation of King’s magnum fantasy opus “The Dark Tower” off the ground, Warner Bros. is actively developing apocalyptic epic “The Stand,” with Ben Affleck tenuously attached, and a two-part version of “It“ to be helmed by “Jane Eyre” director Cary Fukanaga. There are a number of adaptations of King’s short fiction in active development, including “The Ten O’Clock People” overseen by original “Fright Night” director Tom Holland as well. At one point it seemed like every major director was doing a King movie. It looks like that could be happening again.
“Under the Dome” begins airing next summer. Look for it to be a similarly scary sensation along the lines of “American Horror Story” or “Walking Dead.” We imagine this will be the first time we’ll regularly watch a CBS series since “American Gothic” (remember that show?).