Under The Dome: Case Study in Why Books Don’t Make Good TV
By Audrey Surprenant
I am a huge Stephen King fan - I've read many of his books and I've seen all the TV and film counterparts to those books. Initially, CBS was to do a 6-part miniseries based on King’s novel “Under the Dome," which would have been perfect given the length of time the dome exists (approximately one week). Then CBS changed their mind and announced they would be doing a full TV series based on the novel with 13 episodes in the first season. I was both excited and worried; a full-fledged series might be too much dome.
I reread the book before the series aired so that the plot and characters would be fresh in my mind. Going into the first season, I knew that it wouldn’t be possible for a network to depict the gruesome moments, devious drug empire, or intricate stories of the dome citizens, but I also thought that maybe with King as a producer there would be hope of retaining some semblance.
Wow, have I been let down. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the show every week (mostly to see the train wreck happen), and I was pleasantly surprised by how true-to-the-novel the first season was, but season two has been something else. When the second season started, I was hopeful the series would stay on a similar track as the first, but instead the season premiere introduced new characters, new dilemmas, and unnecessarily “bad science” that were completely fabricated by the writers.
This week, season two came to a close. I finally adjusted to the new ideas the show was throwing out, and even enjoyed a handful of episodes. Nonetheless, Under the Dome has an uncertain future on TV: the producers see a 5 season arc for the show but it has not yet been renewed.
My concern with Under the Dome’s plot doesn’t just stop in Chester’s Mill. While I think that movies are a great way to extend or bring new life to novels, networks have proven that primetime TV is just not the place to do so. TV shows grow and change over time and audiences who are also fans of the books are often let down.
Take, for example, Game of Thrones; there are dozens of articles on the internet outlining the differences between the book series and the TV series, and it was recently announced that the HBO series will stray from the plot of the books with season four. Lots of fans of both the books as well as the TV show are upset by this because they were looking forward to giving life to the novels rather than the writers coming up with something new.
Additionally, the same is happening with the new comic-book inspired series (particularly Constantine, coming this fall to NBC); the networks are cutting out so many details from the super hero back stories that fans are questioning if the show will even be about their beloved characters. Another comic superhero show being butchered is Arrow. The series is based on the Green Arrow comics but the CW’s story of Oliver Queen has been so distorted that many consider them to be different entities entirely.
There are many more examples of networks tearing apart the work of authors and artists throughout time, a comprehensive list of shows inspired by novels can be seen on Wikipedia. Many of these shows are considered successful, but my concern remains - today’s audiences will never be satisfied by the way novels are portrayed on screen.
Back to Under the Dome: I appreciate what the writers have attempted to do with the plot by extending the story to engage audiences and add more mystery, but the changes that have been made make it hard to imagine the stories taking place in the same universe. Yet I remain fixated on this series. I remind myself when I tune in that I am watching something completely different from the novel and sadly accept the fate of the show. I will always look forward to seeing a favorite novel portrayed on TV, but books will always win my heart.
TV in the U.S. is seems tied to having shows that run for multiple seasons, but the BBC in the UK has many shows that only run for one season by design, such as The Office. I'm ok with getting only one season of a great story, especially if that means we can get more stories. I also think that it would have been refreshing for this series to end the way the book does, because that just doesn't happen on network TV, and it's why they are losing to cable for engaging entertainment.
One last thing: I haven't been thrilled with what I've seen of this season, and when I heard the producers were confident they could go five seasons, I lost all hope for the series. This could have been done in one really great season. Two is a stretch but doable. Five is just wishful thinking, and sounds like it's arbitrarily based on Breaking Bad's length, rather than the strength of it's content.