Whether or not it’s the event of the summer remains to be seen, but Stephen King’s thriller “Under the Dome” is coming to TV Monday night with murder, mayhem and a town out of control.
The 13-episode series opens on a normal day in Chester’s Mill and then everything changes. The small, agricultural town is suddenly entrapped by a transparent but impenetrable dome that not only cuts it off from traffic entering or leaving, but also from normal forms of communication. With no way to receive help from the outside world, the residents struggle to survive as food and other necessities rapidly dwindle and panic takes hold.
“Human nature rears it beautiful, ugly head,” executive producer Neal Baer says. “People do things they probably wouldn’t have done if they weren’t under such pressure, and they do things that they may have thought they weren’t capable of.”
The cast includes Mike Vogel, Rachelle Lefevre, Dean Norris, Natalie Martinez, Britt Robertson, Alex Koch, Colin Ford, Nicholas Strong, Jolene Purdy and Aisha Hinds.
xfinityTV spoke to Neal Baer and executive producer Brian K. Vaughan to get the inside scoop on the CBS thriller. Here is what you need to know before tuning in to “Under the Dome”:
Is each episode equivalent to one day? The first 10 out of 13 are definitely one day per episode, but it could change after that.
“It’s not post-apocalyptic,” Vaughan says. “This is the first day after this life-altering tragedy, and we really didn’t want to leave these people for a moment. We want to see each step, gradually, of how this society can change, as Chester’s Mill is cut off from the rest of the United States.”
What happens when systems begin to fail: The town sheriff (Jeff Fahey) is still on hand and a councilman (Norris), but the question the series poses is: Can you keep a democracy in place when you’re running out of resources like food and water. Who’s going to make the decisions about who gets what from the store of supplies? The one thing the town has plenty of is propane, but why it does is another mystery separate from the dome — or at least it appears to be in the premiere episode.
“How many of us would continue to show up for our job if we’re no longer getting paid for it?” Vaughan asks. “These questions will come up for these people. What does it matter, if you have $100,000 in your bank account? Chester’s Mill is a farming community. There may be people who were considered a lesser part of Chester’s Mill, who are now vitally important. You’ll see a lot of those reversals happen.
Why don’t they try to dig under the dome? They do try, and in the second episode the answer to why they can’t will be provided.
“The dome is so huge, and it is so beyond anything that these people have seen before, that it won’t just be one episode of figuring out the rules, but several,” Vaughan says.
At the end of these 13 episodes, will viewers get answers? There is a murder in the first episode, and teenagers, who were previously perfectly healthy, are all of a sudden experiencing fits. The producers promise that a lot of answers will be revealed — including those two — but more questions will be asked.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job not stringing everyone along. We made a conscious decision that if we present a mystery, we will solve it for you before we introduce new ones,” Vaughan says. “You’ll learn a great deal about the dome by the end of the season, but maybe not all of the answers. Having worked on “Lost” a little bit, I realize that people cared about the characters deeply. The mythology was an added bonus. So, I’m not too concerned that people will tune out if they’re not getting the biggest answers, as long as they love the people that we’re putting up on the screen.”
There are some great special effects in the pilot, but they all involve the dome. Do you have any concern about the other 12 episodes? In the premiere episode, when the dome descends, anything or person in its way gets sliced in half, a plane taking off crashes into the dome, and there are several other vehicles that crash into the transparent barrier. So the question is, once the parameters of the dome have been established, will there be more cool stuff?
“Jack Bender, one of our executive producers, directed the second episode, and he had the same concern,” Vaughan says. “We can’t go from 60 to 0, with a big, explosive pilot, and then just become a nighttime soap. I think you’ll see that the second episode is almost bigger than the first. It’s huge.”
“I don’t want to give too much away, but you could skateboard on the dome. It’s a great surface. We can do a lot of things with the dome,” Baer says. He then teases, “Let’s burn down the town! It’s in the previews. There’s a big fire.”
Will people die? With shows like “The Walking Dead,” “The Following,” and “Breaking Bad” killing off characters left and right, can you do a series based on a Stephen King novel without several deaths?
“In our writers’ room, we have our Heaven board,” Baer says. “There is at least one person in Heaven that left the dome … maybe.”
How different will the end of the series be from the novel? Despite all the reports to the contrary, this is not a mini-series. If the numbers justify it, it will be back for a second season and beyond. The Stephen King novel takes place over a finite period of time, but if the series continues that will have to change, especially since the first 10 episodes are a day each.
“When we first started talking with Stephen [King], he said, ‘When I came up with this idea, I envisioned a town potentially being trapped for years, and that’s something that you guys could get to do that I didn’t. That might necessitate a different ending,’” Vaughan recalls. “So, we pitched Stephen a far-out, big-swing idea, for if we’re lucky enough to go several years, and he was really excited by it and so generous in saying, ‘I wish I thought of that. That’s killer!’ … He wants to see something new that hopefully still has the themes and the heart of the book in it.”
“Under the Dome” premieres Monday, June 24 at 10/9c on CBS.