'Under the Dome' Part Of New TV Trend

Originally published on July 12, 2013 3:45 pm

The new CBS show “Under the Dome,” about a small town that is suddenly and mysteriously enclosed by a barrier, has been a hit with 13.5 million viewers on its first night.

In the age of streaming TV and Netflix, Linda Holmes of NPR’s Monkey See blog explains why these new “event series” are becoming a summer trend.


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It's HERE AND NOW. We're going to talk now about two summer television hits.


One is about sharks in a tornado, a sharknado, if you will.


CHAKRABARTI: More on that in a bit. The other is about a town and a dome.


RACHELLE LEFEVRE: (as Julia Shumway) This is Julia Shumway from the Weekly Independent. I have some news for all of us stuck here inside Chester's Mill. I have just learned that the barrier around Chester's Mill is being called a dome. This information appears to becoming from military sources positioned just outside Chester's Mill, just outside the dome.

CHAKRABARTI: That's from the CBS summer drama "Under the Dome." The show is based on a Stephen King novel. It's not a miniseries and it's not a season-long series. It's an event series. And so far, it's dominating the Monday night primetime ratings. Here to tell us more is NPR's Linda Holmes. Hi there, Linda.


CHAKRABARTI: Why don't you start up by telling us a little bit more about the show. Is it any good?

HOLMES: It's OK. It's - "Under the Dome" is based on a large, brick-like Stephen King novel that came out a few years ago. It's about a town that mysteriously one day finds that it has been trapped under an impenetrable dome, thus the title. And so everybody inside can't get out and people can't get to them, and it's a big emergency.

And, you know, like a lot of Stephen King novels, what this is really about is what happens to all these people when you put them in this extreme situation. For example, the town sort of falls apart because there's a crisis of leadership and someone has to step in, and it's Big Jim. And here's Big Jim explaining some of his philosophy of leadership.


DEAN NORRIS: (as Big Jim) I'm asking you all to let the law do its job.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) The law did its job already, killed an innocent man.

NORRIS: (as Big Jim) No, no, no. That was a tragic accident. As the town's only remaining councilman, I will not countenance any kind of frontier justice.

CHAKRABARTI: So that's a clip from "Under the Dome," a new television series inspired by a Stephen King sci-fi novel. It sounds a little - almost like the way you described it, like reality TV. But the show has been released successful so far even though it's summer, not really a peak television watching time. So what's behind its success?

HOLMES: Well, I think that with a show like this, people are still looking for something entertaining. It's not a heavy program in a lot of ways. This is still a show where if you've got a bunch of people trapped under a dome, it is a show where, at some point, someone says with great terror, we're under a dome?


HOLMES: So it's, you know, it is still fairly light entertainment in a lot of ways despite being a little bloody at times because, of course, everyone turns to frontier violence, as you can imagine.

CHAKRABARTI: Right, under a dome.

HOLMES: Under the dome, as they keep reminding you in case you forget about the dome. But, you know, mystery in sci-fi shows like this still do have a certain amount of appeal. They also put it in a pretty cushy timeslot. They way it worked out, in addition to CBS, which is airing this, ABC and NBC both launched new dramas as well, neither of which has taken off. So it's got a pretty soft timeslot. There's not as much competition. It's sort of a good time to bringing something that is familiar and that it's Stephen King; things like that.

CHAKRABARTI: So, Linda, who is "Under the Dome" really breaking the mold for summer television, though?

HOLMES: Well, a lot of what the broadcast networks have been able to do successfully in the past few summers has been reality shows. So it's not so much that this is a really different kind of show for broadcast television. It's just that if you had seen this adaptation in about the early 1990s or certainly in the 1980s, it would have been done as a mini-series, maybe two hours a night for five or six nights. Now, they do them as a 13-week series, and that's a different way of presenting it. It makes it last longer, it makes it feel more like a normal television show and it gives them programming that stretches out from now through the end of summer, as opposed to something that's over in perhaps a week or week and a half.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm-hmm. And those 13-week series, I'm hearing that they're being called event series.

HOLMES: Yeah. Event series in a lot of ways is a marketing term. And it's what they call this kind of thing now instead of a mini-series because if it does well, they will try to figure out a way to make more of it, which obviously presents s a problem if you're trying to build to a Stephen King-esque epic conclusion.


CHAKRABARTI: Well, so far it seems that the reception for "Under the Dome" is pretty good among summer TV viewers. But, Linda, before I let you go, I want to you ask you about some more good news for everyone familiar with this sound.


CHAKRABARTI: So that is, of course, a sound from Fox's "24." And I understand that Fox plans to bring "24" back as a limited event series next summer.

HOLMES: Yeah. "24," the Kiefer Sutherland-led spy series, they are talking about bringing it back next summer for a limited series kind of like this. The expectation would be that they would do it and then it would be over as opposed to bringing the series back on an on-going basis. But again, you never know. If it does really well, you never know what might happen.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Linda Holmes is the host of NPR's pop culture blog Monkey See. Linda, always great to talk to you. Thank you so much.

HOLMES: Oh, you're so welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.