Stephen King’s Under the Dome is the TV Event of the Summer

Stephen King and Steven Spielberg team up to bring you the eerie sci-fi summer series, Under the Dome

Credit: CBS

Looking for a big-budget sci-fi show to entertain you this summer? CBS’s Under the Dome is one to watch

Stephen King teams up with Hollywood heavyweight Steven Spielberg to transform the Master of Horror’s best-seller Under the Dome into a summertime TV event

When it comes to creeping people out, few authors get the job done better than Stephen King, but the transitions of his compositions from the printed page to screens both big and small have often proven decidedly sub-par.

Even with this spotty history, however, the talent pool involved in CBS’s upcoming adaptation of King’s 2009 novel, Under the Dome, has made it difficult to maintain anything but the highest of expectations. 

The 13-episode summer series, which revolves around Chester’s Mill, a small town that suddenly becomes surrounded by a mysterious transparent dome, stars Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), Mike Vogel (Bates Motel), Natalie Martinez (CSI: NY), Britt Robertson (The Secret Circle), and Rachelle Lefevre, who played Victoria in the first two films of the Twilight saga.

In addition, for that extra bit of mainstream appeal, the whole thing comes courtesy of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

Stephen King and Under the Dome

Developed by Brian K. Vaughan — the critically acclaimed comic-book creator (Y: The Last Man) who cut his TV teeth as a writer for Lost — with King working alongside him as a fellow executive producer, Dome is being dropped onto the summer schedule starting on June 24 at 10 p.m., a timeslot that seems to indicate the series will have the opportunity to offer as much parental-guidance-suggested content as the broadcast networks will allow.

Despite having originally been conceived as a cable project for U.S. network Showtime, early critical observations belie any suggestion that some of the more graphic scenes from the original novel have been toned down. Indeed, after screening the first episode, The Hollywood Reporter’s Lesley Goldberg made pointed mention that the proceedings included “gory amputations, car crashes and a cow brutally cut in half.”

“We have light and dark together in this show, which is really fun,” said Vaughan, in an interview with the website Collider. “Steven Spielberg sees the best in humanity, and Stephen King has always seen the worst. When I met [King] for the first time, in North Carolina, he almost giggled when the cow gets cut in half. And then there are those Steven Spielberg moments, particularly in the character of Joe [Colin Ford], who is the eyes and the everyday kid that we can relate to.”

Who’s Trapped Under the Dome?

Another big name involved in Under the Dome is Niels Arden Oplev, director of the original Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, who helmed the pilot. In a behind-the-scenes video for, King described Oplev as having “a tremendous visual sense” and grinned while offering assurances that “people’s eyes are gonna bug out of their heads when they see it.”

“[Oplev] was fantastic,” agrees Norris. “Even though he obviously has a great visual side, he was great to work with as an actor. He really gave me great notes and had some interesting opinions. In fact, he actually changed my view on a few scenes, and I appreciated him for it.”

Under the Dome

Deputy Linda (Natalie Martinez) and her fiance, Rusty (Josh Carter), find themselves separated by the dome (Image: CBS)

Although King’s original novel topped out at over a thousand pages, the series will nonetheless expand the universe of Under the Dome even farther, with all signs pointing to the very real possibility that the series could be continued next summer . . . or as many summers beyond that as CBS will allow, based on Vaughan’s comments after the press screening of the first episode.

Turning a Novel into a TV Series

“When we first started talking to Stephen, we came up with the idea of the town potentially being trapped for years at a time,” Vaughan told reporters. “We pitched Stephen a far-out, big-swing idea for this to go several years, a different ending, and he was really excited by it.”

King is far from the only one excited by the series. After all, it takes a heck of a project to follow Breaking Bad, but Norris was quick to sign on the dotted line, despite the fact that it meant moving straight from one series to the next.

Sorry, did we say “despite”? Actually, he did it because of the lack of downtime.

“I had a meeting with [CBS president of entertainment] Nina Tassler, and she mentioned that she had this project, so I took a look at the script,” says Norris, who spoke from the set of Under the Dome, in Wilmington, North Carolina.

The Bad Guy

“They kind of described the arc of the season and it looked great. I knew it was going to be a character that was 180 degrees different from the character that I’d played on Breaking Bad, and I knew that the type of show, being a big sci-fi epic kind of thing, was also 180 degrees different from Breaking Bad, so, basically, it was too good to resist . . . but, y’know, I also wanted to get to work right away after the end of Breaking Bad, so as to kind of avoid the depression I knew I’d feel!”

In the end, not only did Norris not end up with any time to relax between the two gigs, his work on the two series actually ended up overlapping somewhat.

“I actually had to come here and do a few days before I was done on Breaking Bad,” he says. “And when I went back there and finished up, I literally got on a plane and came straight back to North Carolina.”

Norris plays James “Big Jim” Rennie, a local politician who doubles as a used car salesman.

“You combine those two things, and you’ve got the least-liked profession in the United States,” says Norris, laughing.

“It’s really a delicious character, and it only gets more delicious as the episodes move on. The challenge is to make him a likeable guy, and I think that’s what I’m trying to do, but without pandering to it. He’s an interesting and complex guy, and if you’re just a bad guy that nobody likes, then it’s not as effective as if I can bring to him a greater sense of humanity, maybe a little humour. I want to make him a bad guy like J.R. Ewing was a bad guy. Or to have that as part of the mix, at least. Y’know, there’s a reason that he’s a leader in the town prior to the dome coming down, and it’s because he can be a really charming guy.”

Dean Norris Under the Dome

A familiar face: Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris as local politician James “Big Jim” Rennie (Image: CBS)

One of the thorns in Rennie’s side, however, is Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Vogel), a veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces who just happens to be in Chester’s Mill when the dome comes down. “Yep, ol’ Barbie finds himself in this town under — oh, what would you say? — suspicious circumstances,” says Vogel, chuckling.

“And when the dome comes down and he’s in there, I think that, with all his training, he’s the one in town who . . . I mean, what’s inherent in these Special Forces guys is that, when things get chaotic and other people start getting out of control, he actually gets quiet and kind of gets in a zone. So he’s certainly well-suited to be a part of this.”

Like Norris, Vogel is also arriving on the heels of another small-screen success, having survived for six episodes of A&E’s Bates Motel before his character, Deputy Shelby, was summarily dismissed by Dylan Massett, played by Max Thieriot.

“Bates was absolutely a blessing,” says Vogel. “I was incredibly fortunate to be a part of it. What an incredible cast of characters and just some really great actors. And I’ve got my fingers crossed on this one, too. I mean, we’ll see what happens, but, y’know, Stephen King and Steven Spielberg? Those are two nice guys to be in business with!”

Working with The Master or Horror, Stephen King

Although King hasn’t been on the set during every day of production, his presence is felt even in his absence.

“He watches dailies, and I get emailed notes from him,” says Norris. “He’s great. And he gave me some really good insight when we talked. I remember the last thing he said as he left was, ‘Keep the twinkle in your eye when you’re playing the bad guy.’ I thought that was an interesting remark. He also said that he likened my character to Dick Cheney, because Big Jim has a very specific will to power, and he’s gonna exploit it and follow that path, whether it leads to doing good things or bad things.”

“The great thing about Stephen King’s writing is that he’s so detail-oriented,” says Vogel. “But he’s been very collaborative with Brian, and he kind of passes down his feelings on the characters to Brian, and those feelings find their way into the writing. Stephen just kind of makes sure we’re keeping everything true to form. His writing and his imagination is so unbelievable that, y’know, when you meet him, you’re meeting an icon. I just want to know what’s going on inside his head!”

Originally published in TVW. For daily programming updates and on-screen Entertainment news, subscribe to the free TVW e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.