CBS Tests New ModelWith 'Under the Dome'

Stephen King series breaks new ground with serialized story, innovative financing
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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 Development. 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 Dome 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.”

E-mail comments to amorabito@nbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter: @andreamorabito

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