Based on Stephen King’s best-selling novel, the CBS drama series Under the Dome is about the small town of Chester’s Mill, which is suddenly and inexplicably sealed off from the rest of the world by a massive transparent and indestructible dome. Separated from friends and loved ones, and with resources dwindling, the residents will have to learn how to get along and survive. Produced in association with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television, the show stars Mike Vogel, Rachelle Lefevre, Dean Norris, Natalie Martinez, Britt Robertson, Alexander Koch, Colin Ford, Nicholas Strong, Jolene Purdy and Aisha Hinds.
During this recent interview to promote the show’s premiere, executive producers Neal Baer (who is also the showrunner) and Brian K. Vaughan (who is also one of the writers) talked about how the show became what it is now, using the source material as inspiration, how much of an arc will be resolved by the end of the season, why they wanted Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) for the role of Big Jim Rennie, how Natalie Zea (Justified, The Following) will come into the story, later in the season, just how graphic and dark the show will get, exploring political themes, and whether Stephen King might make one of his famous cameo appearances. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
BRIAN K. VAUGHAN: I’d heard that DreamWorks had the rights to this novel. It’s a book that I love, and I was really excited when I heard that DreamWorks said they didn’t want to do it as a straight adaptation. They wanted to use the book as a launching pad for something that could potentially be an ongoing series, and that was really exciting to me. It was originally developed at Showtime, but then it ended up at CBS, and it’s been great. I was really worried that, with the change from cable to network, we might have to soften the show or changed it, but we haven’t, at all. I think CBS is really excited about the idea of doing something of this scope during the summer. Nina Tassler said, early on, “We don’t want to cede summer to cable. We can do exciting, huge television during the summer, as well.”
NEAL BAER: They were already planning to bring back Unforgettable on CBS for the summer, so it happened that they were looking to do an ongoing summer series, that’s not a mini-series, but a series that would come on every summer, just like they do in the fall and spring. We were fortunate that Brian’s script came over from Showtime, just at the point when Nina was thinking that this was something the network wanted to get into. So, the stars aligned for us.
Do you think fans of the book will be happy, as the show moves forward and away from that source material?
BAER: Sure. 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 the several weeks of the book, we have to create new stories. It’s pretty cool to have the book, and then have a show that follows the format with the dome, but then goes and does other things, as well. You can still be surprised. If it were exactly like the book, then you wouldn’t be surprised, every week. We’re chalk full of mystery, every week. We unveil new mysteries and solve old ones. So, if you knew everything that was coming, that might not be as fulfilling as knowing some of it.
VAUGHAN: Our show is very faithful to the themes that Stephen King put forward in Under the Dome. It’s very much the same Chester’s Mill from that book, and these are the same characters, but we definitely do take them to some new and unexpected places. I love The Walking Dead comic book, and I’m so grateful that the TV show isn’t just an exact adaptation. It feels like you get something new, each week. I hope fans of Stephen King will love the show and enjoy the changes as much as Stephen King has. He’s been really supportive of us going to some new places with this.
VAUGHAN: I think you’ll get a very satisfying story with a hopefully satisfying conclusion. But, it’s definitely our intention that, if this does well, we’d like to come back to the dome for many summers to come.
BAER: In the pilot, there are some mysteries that are unfolding already, with our character Barbie (Mike Vogel). That’s something that’s apart from the dome, but very intriguing. Because he’s stuck under the dome, at some point, that’s likely to be revealed. So, what we’ve been focusing on is that, when you’re caught in a small town in Anywhere America, and you have secrets, but you can’t leave where you are, your secrets start to bubble to the surface. A lot of really intriguing secrets that the townspeople have kept will be coming out, over the first season, as well. We’ll be revealing those mysteries, as they occur.
Can you talk about coming to this show from two totally different backgrounds, and how that helps you, in your collaboration?
VAUGHAN: First of all, I was a huge E.R. fan. That’s one of my favorite shows, of all time. In a lot of ways, our show has more in common with something like E.R. than something like Lost. It’s really a character-driven drama. So, it’s been fantastic to work with Neal, as a showrunner. He’s the ideal candidate for this.
BAER: Likewise, because Brian has such a great sense of mystery and pace from comic books and graphic novels that he’s done. He also has a real sense of story that helps because this show burns through story like crazy. So, it has the elements of a great graphic novel, in terms of pace and incidents and effects, and it also has character and depth of who these people are that are caught under the dome. In some ways, it is like E.R., where we would have a mystery of who’s sick that week, but it was really about our doctors and how they dealt with it. That’s very similar to our show. With Under the Dome, yes we have this big dome that’s over us, but we’re really dealing with how these characters are going to get along and make a life together, under extreme circumstances. They’re running out of gasoline, and they’re running out of food and water. How are they going to make things work? How are they going to make the government work? What are they going to do? What was great about E.R. was that we had this place where everything happened. Now, we’ve just got a dome over the town. There are a lot of stories there. It has also Lost elements in it with this great mystery of what created the dome.
VAUGHAN: Being on Lost, the thing I learned is that it’s not about the smoke monster or what the island is. Those things are all in service of revealing character. If you don’t have characters that the audience loves, everything else is meaningless. So, I hope our show will combine a lot of the elements of all the shows we’ve worked on, in our past.
Brian, the book jacket for Y: The Last Man has a very favorable quote from Stephen King. How did you first cross paths with each other?
VAUGHAN: I’ve been obsessed with Stephen King, since I was young. He reached out because he was a fan of Y: The Last Man and gave that tremendous quote, but I had never met him before. When I was reading Under the Dome, one of his characters name checks my comic books. It was a thrill to end up as a pop culture reference in a Stephen King book. But, I had never met him or talked with him until I started working on this project. He’s just been a dream of a collaborator. He’s been so generous with us. It’s really a dream come true.
What led you to decide on Dean Norris for Big Jim Rennie?
BAER: It was a no-brainer. We were really interested in him, from the very beginning, and we knew that Breaking Bad was ending. It’s fun because he’ll be on Breaking Bad on Sunday nights, finishing up his previous character, while he’s starting out on our show on Monday nights. You’ll get two nights of Dean. So, we were very familiar with his work and felt like he epitomized the character that both Stephen King, and then Brian brought to the page and the script.
VAUGHAN: I am a huge Breaking Bad fan, and it’s been so fun to see Dean do this character, who is so different from Hank. He’s the ultimate source of law and justice on Breaking Bad, and Big Jim Rennie is quite the opposite.
BAER: He’s law, but it’s a different kind of justice
How did the character of Junior come about, and what made Alexander Koch the right actor to bring the character to life?
VAUGHAN: He is an unstable young man with a very dark side, but he presents a very bright face to the town of Chester’s Mill. So, we really needed an actor with a lot of dimensions. Alexander just blew us all away. From the moment he walked in and started saying his first line, we all knew. It was so thrilling. Most of our actors have been on a lot of great shows and are really accomplished, and he’s very new. We’re so grateful that CBS was supportive of how much we loved him. It’s just paid dividends. He’s really terrific on the show.
BAER: It’s great to have a fresh face because it’s someone you don’t know. A number of our younger actors have been on television and in movies for a number of years. Alex came out of college and it was literally his first audition. We were auditioning before pilot season because we were casting in November, so we had the upper hand and really got to choose our cast. We had wonderful casting directors who cast The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. We worked with them to put together this incredible cast.
What can you say about how Natalie Zea will fit into the show? Is she playing one of the characters from the book?
VAUGHAN: She’s actually a wholly new invention. She’s not in the book. We don’t want to spoil too much, but we will say that she’s someone with a connection to more than one person under the dome. She will bring a lot of excitement, but we’re reluctant to say too much because her episodes are a ways off.
When the cow is split in half in the pilot, you really only see red without any bones or anything. Was that because it would have been too graphic for network television?
VAUGHAN: No, I think that cow is pretty damn graphic. It is what a cow would look like. The bones are in there. They’re just obscured by the organs and the blood.
BAER: It’s sliced right through, so you just see the round white markings of the bone. You won’t see a whole bone hanging out there.
Will there be any political themes, within the story of this show?
VAUGHAN: Sure, very much so. One of the things we love best about it is that this is a metaphor for the human condition. We’re all trapped under a dome together. We’re all on this planet, in it together with a limited amount of resources. I think that Stephen King’s novel is a really angry novel. I think Stephen was really angry about the state of the country, the state of the environment and how we were treating each other. And hopefully, it will be like graphic novels that I’ve worked on and done, not in a preachy way, but in a fun, fast-paced, pulpy look at the world.
The book goes to some really dark places. How dark will the show get?
VAUGHAN: The fun thing about this show is that it’s equal parts Stephen King and Steven Spielberg. Stephen King is traditionally thought of as seeing the worst in people, and Spielberg the best, and this is a nice blend of the two. So, there will be moments of great darkness and horror, but there are also moments of triumph. What both of them do so well is seeing ordinary people thrive in extraordinary situations. I think the show will have moments of both lightness and darkness.
Will viewers see any Stephen King influences that aren’t in the book?
VAUGHAN: He’s even said that, if we come back for a second season, he’d love to write an episode. It’s never been him saying, “Oh, you guys got this wrong. That wasn’t my intention in the book.” We have some new characters, some of which are wholly original and some are composites from the book, and Stephen has been so supportive. He loves them and gives us ideas for the new characters, as well as characters from the book. So, he’s very much on board.
Any chance Stephen King might make one of his usual cameo appearances on the show?
BAER: If he wants to.
VAUGHAN: We’re open to it, but we’d much rather have his talents behind the camera, instead of in front of it. No offense to his acting, which I’m sure is terrific, and it would be fun to see him, but even if you don’t see him crossing the street in the background, Stephen King is on every frame of what we shoot.
Under the Dome airs on Monday nights on CBS.