On Big Brother, Survivor and The Real World, producers stick the contestants in a virtual fishbowl to find out what happens, well, when people stop being polite and start getting real.
CBS' Under the Dome is essentially the same premise, except that in this case, the fishbowl is literal and the show is fictional, based on the novel by Stephen King. It's the residents of Chester's Mill, an ordinary small town, who find themselves trapped under a dome of unknown proportions with no hope of escape.
First Look: CBS tackles faith, fear and fascism in Under the Dome
So how do they survive? Is there still a government? Do people still work? Does money have any value? Will self-sufficient farmers inherit the earth? Each episode will show roughly one day inside the dome. "We wanted to see each step gradually how a society is going to change as Chester's Mill is cut off from the rest of the United States," says executive producer Brian K. Vaughn
"It's a new type of democracy in place when you're running out of resources," executive producer Neal Baer adds. "Who's going to be in charge? Who gets what? How's it going to be divided? We explore all of those basic elements that we take for granted in our everyday lives."
Among the residents are Big Jim Rennie (Breaking Bad's Dean Norris), a councilman and car salesman who hopes to take over the town, Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre), a journalist who is looking to uncover the mystery of the dome, and shady newcomer Dale "Barbie" Barbara (Mike Vogel). But not so fast with those snap judgments, Baer says. "Don't believe everything you see at the beginning. The people you think are bad may not be so bad and the one's you think are good may not be so good."
Though the writers have remained somewhat faithful to the novel, there will also be significant differences. For one, the character Angie (Britt Robertson) survives the dome's descent, unlike in the book. But will Under the Dome stick to King's original ending? "We pitched Stephen a far-out, big-swing idea for — if we're lucky enough for this to go several years — a different ending, and he was really excited by it and so generous to say, 'I wish I thought of it. That's killer,'" Vaughn says.
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While the first season will run just 13 episodes, the producers have already planned future seasons. "We will learn a great deal about the dome by the end of the season, but maybe not all of the answers," Vaughn says. "Lost succeeded because people cared about those characters so deeply. The mythology is sort of an added bonus."
"I had this sense that this was kind of like a new Twin Peaks, because you know how everyone was stuck in that little place, but you really got into the characters and mysteries were unfolding," Baer says. "That was what resonated. This is very different from that show, but it takes that kind of element and the roots of CBS with Twilight Zone and puts it together in a new fresh way."
Will you be watching Under the Dome?
Under the Dome premieres Monday at 10/9c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)