In Los Angeles we are in deep in the middle of development season, that blissful for a few and stressful for the masses time of year when studios partner with writers and producers to begin planning the future of their programming. It is still really too early to get too excited (or too upset) about any of the announcements because many of these projects never make it past the earliest stages. Still, today when Deadline reported that Showtime was taking on Stephen King's "Under The Dome," I could help but prematurely wet myself.
I know, I know; that can be taken either way.
In this particular case, though, you have a top tier cable network attempting to adapt a thousand plus novel into a long-running series. It should be a slam dunk. But anyone who has read the book knows that is not true. There is a very finite amount of time in which the story can be told. Look at it logically, from a "real world" point of view: if you're trapped anywhere, sealed in with no ventilation, no matter how large a coffin that may be, it is still basically a coffin. And eventually your air is going to run out. It is not a story of hope. And considering Steven Spielberg is behind this television adaptation, we have to wonder if he's going to candy coat things just a little bit.
Showtime, even without the "happy Hollywood ending" Spielberg attached, delivers some of the more out of the box dramas on television today, but they aren't doing "gritty" now the way they perhaps once were. This story is about the downward spiral of civilization-- of humanity, and of the life force itself-- as pollution and corruption take over, slowly killing off every living thing in its path. It's a dark story, even if at the end there is a too-good-to-be-true way out that honestly seems to pop out of nowhere just to end the book before it officially becomes an anthology.
Within the book, a force field forms around a small New England town, trapping them within its confines. This would be bad enough, even without all of the looting and violence and general disarray that follows as society crumbles and people turn on each other. But it's visually very gruesome, as well. The depiction of the wall of the dome all of a sudden appearing happens instantaneously, slicing birds and cars in half, causing a plane to hit one side, the pilot assuming he had clear air in front of him. It snaps you into this crazy, somewhat supernatural world immediately. Normal rules no longer apply. It is true escapism television, but you are not escaping into a world in which you would want to be.
The team coming together to bring this story to television include Dreamworks Television producers Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank, the latter of whom is behind Falling Skies, Spielberg's post-alien invasion human drama for TNT. That series was strong in its first season but took a turn in its finale episode, perhaps falling prey to the belief that leaving the audience on a big cliffhanger will leave them (and the network) wanting more...and cause a renewal. But that can be a risky little game.
Here's the thing: I have loved King's work long and hard for so many years (there's a chapter in my book dedicated to it), but I very rarely think the adaptations work. They usually cut out too many details, too many subtleties, and often the subtext gets totally erased in favor of shock value. I already have so much invested in the story, it's almost impossible not to be disappointed. Maybe I'm just a cynic. But "Under The Dome" is one of my favorite King novels, in recent years and across decades, so there is a lot riding on this project for me personally. Everything about it should be my new favorite TV show. But everything about it could go oh, so wrong, oh, so fast.
In this case, I actually don't think the on-going story will lend itself well to the rich source material. It is the kind of project that needs to know when and where it ends so it can effectively build the tension there properly (assuming also, of course, that the ending of the TV show mirrors the ending of the book). I always wanted to see this one adapted, but I was always hoping for a mini-series. Like the dome itself, the show needs to have a clear arc from its creation-- especially since unlike the characters, we can actually see it coming.
Still, any TV with a Stephen King project on-air is better than TV with no Stephen King at all, so you know I will be keeping a close eye on the developments of this project!