Stephen King and his vivid imagination are certainly no strangers to the small screen. In addition to both miniseries and multiple-night events ("Langoliers," "The Stand"), 1991's "Golden Years" was an attempt to create an ongoing series from one of his stories. Though well-received by critics and fans, that series only generated eight episodes, one of which didn't air.
CBS is hoping to do better with "Under the Dome." Scheduled to premiere in June, the show has been adapted from a fairly recent King novel. At WonderCon 2013, the creative minds behind the series unveiled footage and offered insights into the plot and characters.
2,000 people cut off from the worldThe 2009 novel takes place in the small town of Chester's Mill. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in October, a dome mysteriously covers the entire town. Invisible to the naked eye, the dome is described as something akin to an impenetrable force field. Unable to see the barrier, planes, birds, and cars fatally crash into the dome before the military arrives to take charge.
Comic book writer Brian K. Vaughan was tapped by King to adapt his novel for television. An Emmy nominee for his work on "Lost," Vaughan -- when asked how he would react to this scenario in real life -- gave a very honest answer.
"Extremely poorly. Because I am a writer, I have very little to offer society. I would just hide," Vaughan said.
The WonderCon panel also featured a look at a TV trailer that captures the flavor of the series. Like the novel, the television adaptation appears fairly gruesome, yet realistic. Cut off from the outside world, civilization breaks down rapidly. Local power brokers also use the crisis to exert even more influence.
Several people who make contact with the dome suffer injuries and, in some cases, fatal effects. According to executive producer and real-life pediatrician Neal Baer ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"), that's especially bad because medical care is sorely lacking in Chester's Mill.
"What's interesting about our show -- for reasons you will find out -- there really aren't any doctors there to do anything. Can you imagine what that would be like? That kind of scares me. I guess I would be scared more to have doctors who don't have all the things they need," Baer said.
Pound-for-pound, a good seriesThough it is a fairly fast read, King's "Under the Dome" manuscript came in at 1,000 pages and weighed a reported 19 pounds.
"Stephen King -- in true Stephen King fashion -- when he reached page 1,000, he said, 'I'm just getting started. I can't publish books bigger than this,'" Vaughan explained. "He said, 'I always imagined what would happen if people were trapped under this dome for hopefully years at a time.'"
Though the inhabitants remain under the dome for just a few days in the book, King encouraged the writers to use the story as a jumping-off point. He said to use the characters, use the themes, but don't be afraid to go to new places.
So how does one adapt a King-size tome like this? "Pound by pound. It was 19-pound book, so we took the three best pounds. Just the prime rib," Vaughan explained.
Chester's Mill residents polarized by the domeActress Rachel Lefevre plays Julia Shumway, publisher of the local newspaper. Trapped with the other residents, Julia uses her position to keep Chester's Mill informed and up-to-date on the dome.
"Every time you take on a role, you play a certain person in a certain set of circumstances; it forces you to wonder, 'What would I do?' And there's a quote -- I think it's 'A hero isn't any braver, he's just braver for five minutes longer than everybody else,'" Lefevre said during the panel.
The actress said she thinks about that quote a lot in the context of "Under the Dome."
"What are the circumstances under which I would save myself, and what are the circumstances under which I would sacrifice myself? This is, for me, the dream series because it is the living embodiment of all those questions," she explained.
Coming off the successful "Breaking Bad," Dean Norris switches gears to play James "Big Jim" Rennie, a successful businessman and local politician. On opposite sides of the ethics spectrum, Big Jim and Rachel typically butt heads. Dale "Barbie" Barbara also becomes a serious thorn in Big Jim's side, as well as Julia's ally.
"One thing you definitely need under your dome is a bad guy. From playing this guy, I don't really play him as a bad guy because I don't think bad guys think they are bad guys," Norris explained. "The dome allows certain types of people -- Big Jim being one of them -- the opportunity to become a bit of a dictator, I guess, to exercise their power because they were cut off from anybody who could check that power."
"Under the Dome" starts a 13-week run on Monday, 6/24 on CBS.
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