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'Dome' Luck: On CBS, A Drama About Getting Stuck With Each Other

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'Dome' Luck: On CBS, A Drama About Getting Stuck With Each Other


'Dome' Luck: On CBS, A Drama About Getting Stuck With Each Other

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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"Under The Dome" is one of the most anticipated TV shows of the summer. It starts Monday on CBS. The show takes place in a tiny New England town that's suddenly mysteriously sealed off by an impenetrable dome. And as we hear from NPR's Neda Ulaby, "Under The Dome" comes from two very famous Stevens.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: This is the first time we'll see an onscreen collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Stephen King.

NEAL BAER: The Steven Squared, we call it.

ULABY: That's Neal Baer, executive producer.

BRIAN K. VAUGHAN: I was hugely intimidated.

ULABY: That's Brian K. Vaughan. He wrote the first episode. In the show, like the novel, the dome crashes down out of nowhere. People think it's an earthquake or a natural disaster.


ULABY: No phones, no Internet or television. If you try to get in or out, you smash into invisible barriers.


ULABY: Parents are cut off from children. Tourists are literally trapped. The military swarms in, trying rescue the town but its citizens are stuck with each other.


ULABY: The little town becomes a societal Petri dish, says producer Neal Baer.

BAER: How are they going to get along? How is the government going to work? Who's going to be in charge?

ULABY: Such questions fascinate both Stevens, even though the two seem so different on the surface.

VAUGHAN: Stephen King is someone who, you know, has the ability to see the worst in humanity.

ULABY: Take "Carrie" or "The Shining." Whereas, Steven Spielberg's world, says Vaughan, just glows with idealism.

VAUGHAN: They're kind of polar opposites. But there's a little bit of overlap in the Venn diagram, because I think they're both such aggressive humanists.

ULABY: The show manages to raise topical issues: climate change, the collapse of small American towns, how to deal with dwindling resources.

BAER: It was really written from a place of anger.

ULABY: Executive producer Neal Baer says when "Under The Dome" was published in 2009, Stephen King had a lot on his mind.

BAER: I think King was angry about the direction the country was taking and how we were treating each other and how we were treating the planet. Yet, it never comes off as a screed.

ULABY: Instead, it's almost a meditation on how quickly a society can dissolve. That's suggested in a scene between a cautious, reasonable town sheriff and a politician scheming to exploit the situation's instability.


ULABY: When it comes to worst case scenarios, you could do worse than checking in with Annalee Newitz. She edits the science fiction website io9, and she just published a book about surviving mass extinctions. She says the idea of a town sequestered under a dome is not exactly original.

ANNALEE NEWITZ: There's actually a lot of stories that have this same idea. I mean, you could even claim it goes back to, you know, "No Exit," where people are trapped in hell together.


ULABY: There's also a really depressing German movie about a woman trapped alone.


ULABY: And the "Simpsons" movie that put Springfield under a dome.


ULABY: And an old "Twilight Zone" episode where a suburb lapses into mob rule after aliens seal it off.


NEWITZ: And so, the dome becomes the magnifying glass we use to look into these terrifying examples of human relationships.

ULABY: Newitz liked "Under the Dome," the book and the first episode of the new show. She was impressed by the adaptation and the special effects, like what happens to a poor cow standing in the wrong place when the dome slams down. It's perfectly bisected.

BAER: No cows were injured. This was not a real cow.

ULABY: Executive producer Neal Baer points out the cow was writer Brian K. Vaughan's gory idea.

VAUGHAN: It's a woodchuck in the book and that was one of my first tentative changes, but I asked Stephen King if it would be okay. I thought an adorable woodchuck getting split in half, we'd lose our audience.

ULABY: Both Vaughan and Baer expect "Under the Dome" to exceed its planned season of 13 episodes. In fact, they frankly relish the idea of trapping the citizens of Chester's Mill under the dome for years.

VAUGHAN: Oh, my God, what are we going to do when Chester's Mill runs out of coffee? That is really when the true horror begins.

ULABY: Of all the horror Stephen King has unleashed - homicidal cars, killer clowns, towns filled with vampires - a world without coffee might be his most terrifying yet. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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