CBS Tests New Model With 'Under the Dome'

Stephen King series breaks new ground with serialized story, innovative financing

Don't call CBS' Under the Dome, premiering June 24, a miniseries.
Though the show’s 13-episode order is shorter than other
CBS dramas, and the network is promoting it as a summer
programming event, the idea is that if it succeeds, Dome will run for
multiple seasons.

“The vision that producers had from
the very beginning was for an ongoing
series. They didn’t see it just as a limited
series and/or just summer programming,”
says CBS Entertainment president
Nina Tassler, who notes additional
seasons would not have to air exclusively
in summer. “There is a scenario
where there could be a summer installment
and a winter installment.”

Though the Stephen King novel on
which the series is based covers a time
frame of just over a week, writer Brian
K. Vaughn pitched a long-term vision,
with stories and arcs for the residents
of the novel’s town of Chester’s Mill
that go beyond that, including some
new characters. Vaughn says King, an
executive producer on the series, has been supportive of the creative
liberties, which allow fans of the novel to get an additive experience
from the TV adaptation.

“If you knew everything that was coming, that might not be as fulfilling
as knowing some of it,” says Dome executive producer Neal Baer.

Different Kinds of Benchmarks

Through a unique deal with Amazon, which makes episodes of Under
the Dome
available on its streaming service four days after broadcast on
CBS, and with the show already licensed in 200 international markets,
the pricey series is profitable before it even airs. As to whether that takes
some pressure off the series’ ratings, Tassler isn’t willing to predict what
will define success under the new paradigm.

“Especially since it is a new model, I don’t know what that benchmark
is,” she says. “I think it’s going to be a little bit different. To what degree,
I don’t know yet, except that we’re going to have to wait and see.”

For Amazon, adding an in-season show is another weapon in its arsenal
as it builds up a programming
library to rival that of Netflix, which
has been making noise with its original
series such as House of Cards and Arrested
. And if CBS decides
to pick up a second season of Dome,
Tassler says, “I would only assume
the partnership [with Amazon] would
continue, especially in success.”

“Adding a current season major
network TV series like Under the
to the Prime Instant Video library
so shortly after its live airing
enables us to increase our exclusive
selection of great TV shows and give
customers access how, when and
where they want to watch it,” says
Brad Beale, director of digital video
content acquisition for Amazon.

Building Serial Habits

Besides forging new ground with an innovative distribution model,
Dome also allows CBS to acclimate its audience to highly serialized storytelling,
a departure for the network known for its successful procedurals.
This fall CBS has Hostages, a 15-episode thriller starring Toni Collette and
Dylan McDermott, which like Dome will air Mondays at 10 p.m.

“You’ve got two highly serialized shows in the same time period,”
Tassler notes. “We’re excited at the through line in terms of audience
viewing habits.”

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