This season, a Stephen King novel is getting credit for helping to woo summer viewers back to network television.
The TV show “Under the Dome,” based on the 2009 novel of the same name by King, debuted on CBS June 24 with ratings that The New York Times called “spectacular,” drawing in more than 13.5 million viewers (the largest audience a drama airing in the summer months has received in more than 20 years). The show is scheduled to run for only 13 episodes, but producers have mentioned the possibility that the show could extend beyond that if it’s successful. In an interview with Collider, producer Brian K. Vaughan said he and fellow producer Neal Baer had pitched King a story idea to be used “if we’re lucky enough to go several years" and CBS president Nina Tassler mentioned the possibility of a "winter cycle" in an interview with the Associated Press.
Over the past few years, cable shows like HBO’s “True Blood” and its first season of "Girls" have dominated both summer ratings and watercooler talk, so CBS's ability to take back some of the summertime buzz should be encouraging to the networks.
The show stars Alexander Koch, Jolene Purdy, Nicholas Strong, and tells the story of what happens when the residents of a small town are suddenly sealed in by a mysterious barrier that prevents anyone from entering or leaving the area.
Some King fans cried foul over changes made in the transition from page to screen, including characters which were combined with others. King penned a letter to these fans directly, which he posted on his website.
“If you loved the book when you first read it, it’s still there for your perusal,” the author wrote. “But that doesn’t mean the TV series is bad, because it’s not. In fact, it’s very good…. Many of the changes wrought by Brian K. Vaughan and his team of writers have been of necessity, and I approved of them wholeheartedly.”
And surprises may be in store even if you’ve read the book. King noted in his letter that the writers for the TV show have “completely re-imagined” where the Dome is coming from.
In addition to good ratings, the show has received mostly positive reviews so far. New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger called the first episode "addictive" and told readers that they can "say goodbye to your next two Monday nights, and possibly ... the whole summer’s worth."
“It was fun last night seeing [the characters] tangle themselves up in each other's problems,” Richard Lawson of The Atlantic wrote. “Last night's special effects were just slightly cheesier than the dialogue – but that networks are willing to tell ambitious stories in a relatively compact and blessedly finite manner is nothing if not a refreshing change of pace.” He did, however, express worry about sustaining the show’s quality if it were to be extended beyond 13 episodes.
Entertainment Weekly writer Jeff Jensen was also mostly won over, calling the pilot “captivating.”
“If Vaughan can complexify the people and keep the show thematically incisive without becoming too pretentious, I'll stand with the catastrophe-rocked residents of Chester's Mill for seasons to come,” he wrote.