June 25, 2013



UNDER THE DOME:  Monday 10PM on CBS – Potential DVR Alert

Much of CBS’s programming philosophy is built around the steady reliability of its reruns, so on the face of it, the Eye would seem least likely of the broadcast networks to make the summer’s biggest play with an expensive, top-level original series.  But while CW stays in hibernation for months, FOX mostly relies on unscripted shows, and ABC and NBC dot their line-ups with cheap international dramas, CBS has launched UNDER THE DOME, a 13-episode event put together by a line-up of A-listers that starts with author (and Executive Producer) Stephen King and fellow Executive Producer Steven Spielberg.  Dome is based on King’s massive bestselling novel of the same name (1000 pages plus), but this isn’t a traditional miniseries adaptation–while the novel has a definite ending, the idea is that the show, if successful, can be renewed for additional installments.  We’ll find out the ratings results tomorrow, but dramatically, the series is off to a promising start.

Both novel and series begin with the same premise:  one ordinary Sunday, the town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, is suddenly, inexplicably cut off from the rest of the world by a giant clear dome, an inverted fishbowl that can’t be penetrated by airplanes or missiles.  The community has to fend for itself without outside supplies and (at least in the novel) mounting tempers, temperatures and toxic air, and in the classic way of disaster movies, some townspeople turn out to be heroes while others are craven, selfish villains with awful secrets.  (This being Stephen King, some of those villains are also murderous psychopaths.)

The first hour of Dome, adapted by series developer Brian K. Vaughn (a former Lost writer/producer) and directed by Niels Arden Oplev (who was behind the original Swedish film of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), does a solid job of setting up the basic situation and major characters.  Even a network budget doesn’t allow for all the spectacle the novel provides when the dome comes down, but the plane crash and some of the grisly animal damage from the book are there, and Oplev does a good job with the disturbing imagery.  Readers will discern that there are already differences from the book, notably the characters of ultimate hero Barbie (Mike Vogel), who no longer seems to be a cook and whose reason for trying to leave Chester’s Mill that morning has changed; and Junior Rennie (Alexander Koch), who isn’t quite as violent off the bat as he was when the novel began–although he shows signs of getting there.  But gutsy newspaper editor Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre) and Junior’s father Big Jim (Dean Norris, the DEA brother-in-law on Breaking Bad), a city councilman with big ambitions, are among those who appear to be very much as remembered.  There are some new characters as well, including Carolyn Hill (Aisha Hinds), who with her wife was taking their teen daughter to a camp for troubled kids when the dome descended.  These are all good actors, although none of them really had a chance to shine in Episode 1 with so much expository territory to cover.

Despite the visual and organizational challenges, in a sense the first hour of Under the Dome was the easiest to adapt because its central action is so inherently compelling.  The trick for Vaughn and the other writers will be to keep the drama going when it hinges on the characters and their relationships.  In addition, it’ll be interesting to see how far the TV show follows the very pointed political allegory of King’s novel, not to mention what becomes its extreme violence and exhausting body count, which would seem to run up against network TV standards and practices rules.  The show’s final hurdle will be, in the absence of a real ending, to give the season a satisfying conclusion.

Saying that Under the Dome is the most intriguing network show of the summer doesn’t give it enough credit, because none of the other networks are showing any ambition at all.  Dome, though, would be worth attention even during the regular season, a series considerably more interesting than many of the fall shows we’ve sampled so far.  In a sense, during the summer months all network viewers are trapped, restrained by a steady diet of reruns and inexpensive filler.  Perhaps this Dome will be our escape.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."