Fans got a taste of the CBS adaptation of Stephen King's Under the Dome when the upcoming summer series descended Saturday on WonderCon Anaheim. Writer Brian K. Vaughan, showrunner Neal Baer, producer Jack Bender and stars Dean Norris and Rachelle Lefevre were all present at the panel, which opened with a sizzle reel from Under the Dome's dailies.
The sci-fi thriller centers on a picturesque town in Maine that’s suddenly and inexplicably sealed off from the world by an invisible force field. An ex-Army captain is trapped inside the town, where he teams with a handful of citizens, including three children, to oppose a politician attempting to seize power — and to discover the source of the Dome.
Best known for his work on Breaking Bad, Norris looks as if he'll steal every scene he's in as the villain Big Jim. Like the Super Bowl spot showed, Under the Dome has great special effects, and the footage shown at WonderCon seemed to win over those in attendance.
Vaughan, writer of such acclaimed comics as Y: The Last Man and Saga, received the most applause when he took to the stage. Much of the panel was dominated by moderator Richard Rushfield’s questions, and the fact that Bender and Vaughan had both worked on Lost came up frequently. They made it clear that despite a somewhat-similar premise, Under the Dome will be different from Lost -- although Vaughan joked he planned to copy everything that made the earlier series a success, especially the focus on the characters. Bender confirmed there won't be any other Lost cameos in Season 1 beyond Jeff Fahey, and Baer said there won't be many Lost-style flashbacks.
The fact that King signed off on this adaptation was another hot topic on the panel. Vaughan admitted their team put an incredible amount of research into how life under the dome would work to make the series as scientifically accurate as possible, and said King's response to that news had been, "You know you can just make shit up, too." That triggered the biggest laugh from the audience, and proved Lefevre's point that King is surprisingly funny for a man best known for horror.
"The best adaptations are the ones that didn't get lost in the forest," Vaughan said of how they approached Under the Dome. "We don't change the book. ... This will hopefully be something new."
Lefevre's best King moment came when she took a photo with him on set and asked if she could tweet it to him. "Homie don't twit," he responded, causing both Lefevre and those in attendance to crack up. "I will keep that forever," she said.
"You wonder about the mind of someone who can create so much stuff," Norris said, adding that King gave him acting advice. That being said, Bender described the atuor as humble and nice, and Vaughan appreciated that King was supportive of the changes they made from the book. He called himself "the biggest" King fan, and admitted he would love to have author contribute to the series at some point. (Fun fact: “The Body” is Vaughan's favorite King story.)
It's also worth noting that this is the first collaboration between King and Steven Spielberg, as Spielberg's Amblin Productions is producing Under the Dome. It's an interesting meeting of minds because, as Vaughan pointed out, Spielberg is the ultimate optimist, and King is the ultimate pessimist. Fans should also appreciate that there will be some King-specific Easter eggs embedded throughout Season 1.
"Steve has just been very generous with us," Vaughan said. "He told us really use the book as a jumping off point, use the characters, use the themes, but don't be afraid to go to new places."
Under the Dome will raise a lot of questions about society, and working on the show made the panelists think about how they would respond if they were put in the same situation. Vaughan joked that he would handle a dome "very poorly, because I'm a writer so I have very little to offer society. I would just hide." Bender added, "I would be hiding with Brian."
But Lefevre said Under the Dome makes her wonder if she would be able to step up and be a hero in that situation. She also said filming the series made her think about the fact there are places in the world where people do not have enough food to live -- a situation that will eventually take place in Under the Dome -- so she'd like to see people talk about coming up with a solution for that.
Issues like why there aren't doctors under the dome and why Wi-Fi doesn't work but people can take cell phone pictures will be addressed in the series. "Human beings adapt so quickly no matter how wonderful or bizarre or strange a change is," Lefevre said. "As human beings that's how we survive the larger, more epic changes."
Vaughan, Baer and Bender made it very clear that Under the Dome isn’t a miniseries, and that the plan is for the thriller to have a long life even though it hasn't been picked up yet for a second season. "We start and we never let up and go back," Vaughan said of the first 13 episodes' forward momentum. That being said, the Under the Dome creators do have the end in sight.
"We know ideally exactly how this series would end," Vaughan said. "We have a road map, but also the freedom to take side trips that look fun."
Under the Dome premieres Monday, June 24 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.