Through Thom Tinted Lenses

February 19, 2013

UNDER THE DOME: THE BOOK & THE SERIES by Thom Reese

CBS has announced Under the Dome, a new television series based on the Stephen King book of the same title. I’m very excited – and a little worried – about this one. At roughly eleven hundred pages, and with a hefty cast of characters, the book offers enough source material to fuel at least three televised seasons, perhaps more if CBS holds to the thirteen episode season utilized in season one. But, before I get into the series, let’s take a quick look at the book itself.

THE BOOK: I’ll be blunt; this novel is easily one of King’s best. Not an easy task thirty odd years into a career. As a writer, and as an avid reader, I find it fascinating that at nearly eleven hundred pages Under the Dome never slows down, never becomes dull, there’s no filler or long sections of description devoid of plot or tension. This is all forward momentum. Every page belongs in the book. True, that is not always the case with King. He’s been known to meander in the midst of a tale. Not here. And despite any minor missteps along his lengthy career, Stephen King is one of the most talented writers of this generation. He would have succeeded no matter what his chosen genre.

THE PLOT: A small town in Maine – Who knew?! – is suddenly and completely isolated from the outside world by an invisible dome. Nothing can get in or out, not even aircraft from above. Bombs explode upon impacting the dome, cars crash into it, the townspeople are trapped. What follows can best be described as Lord of the Flies meets The Stand. Lord of the Flies because we now have an isolated microcosm of society where all of the old rules quickly fall away and anarchy rises. The Stand, because, well, it has that epic King feel. That apocalyptic flavor, those unforgettable and well fleshed out characters. And, as with most of King’s work, it’s the characters that bring the story to realization. King is a master at breathing life into his cast, making them more than just plot devices, but allowing them to breathe, to love, to hurt, to hope. He brings us, the readers, into their souls and then sends us away screaming as the characters encounter horrors beyond any known in the natural world.

THE TELEVISION SERIES: This is an ambitious project. Originally slated for cable network, Showtime, CBS snatched it up as their own. (CBS owns Showtime.) Word is that with the success of cable dramas such as The Walking Dead and Homeland, CBS wanted to get in the game of outside-of-the-box programming. Stephen King is involved as an executive producer, Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment is at the helm. Brian K. Vaughn (Lost) will also serve as an executive producer.  Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) is slated to direct the first episode. It seems a solid cast is being collected, no household names, but familiar faces with solid track records. (Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) as “Big Jim” Rennie, Mike Vogel (Cloverfield) as Dale Barbara, Britt Robertson (The Secret Circle) as Angie McCain)

The show will launch June 24 on CBS with a thirteen episode season but CBS has already committed to additional seasons – expect a cliffhanger ending in episode thirteen. This is a great opportunity for CBS which is known primarily for crime dramas. My only hope is that the network will give the creative team the latitude needed to make this the spectacular series that it can be. How do they do that? Here are a few thoughts:

Stick to the Book: Yes. I understand that in different mediums there are different rules. Ideas that work on the printed page don’t always translate well on the screen. That said, take a page from the Game of Thrones playbook. The HBO series Game of Thrones is based on George R. R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire book series. The cast is huge, the scope enormous. Everything that happens in the books can in no way be put to screen. Budgetary and practical matters simply make it impossible. That said, Game of Thrones stays true to the source material. Season one was very close to the book, season two a little less so, but, and this is important, it stayed true to the spirit of the books. Some minor changes were made, some characters combined, some plot threads deleted, some added. But in the end, it all came together to tell essentially the same story. There were no major deviations, nothing that would make a diehard fan fret or curse. Under the Dome has fantastic source material, and, far fewer challenges than Game of Thrones which films on three different continents and has a cast as large as some graduating classes. There’s no reason to stray too far.

Do not make it episodic: Broadcast networks have a long history of episodic television. At its core this is fine. This is the structure on which TV was built. It’s what we’ve all known since childhood. Though there might be some longstanding story arches, each episode tells a complete story, with a clear ending right before the credits role. This model has been broken by shows such as Breaking Bad, Homeland, Dexter, The Walking Dead. In these, each episode is more akin to a chapter in a greater work. It allows for much more depth both in plotting and characterization, and is the direction in which quality television is headed. Under the Dome is based on a novel.  It has a wonderful weave of subplots and rich characters. In this, the producers have been handed a gift. I hope they treat it as such.

Keep the seasons short: Broadcast networks usually order about twenty-six episodes per season while cable networks cut that in half. Most of the best dramas on television have twelve or thirteen episode seasons. Stick with what works. I believe the shorter season allows for more attention to be given to each episode. The overall burden is less, the schedule a bit more forgiving. Season one will have only thirteen episodes, my vote is that they stay with this formula.

Keep Stephen King involved: It’s his original work. It’s his original vision. He’s one of the bestselling authors of our time. Keep him close, follow his lead.

As for me, I’ll be watching on June 24. Hopeful, but cautious. This series has great potential. I sincerely hope it attains this.

What’s happening with Thom?

A quick update on my recent activities: I’m writing furiously on my third Huntington novel, tentatively titled, A SAVAGE DISTANCE. It picks up soon after the events of CHASING KELVIN and will be released later this year.

My primary publisher, Speaking Volumes, has announced the release of two CD sets of my audio dramas, one within the next few weeks and the other this summer. These are full-cast, fully produced, modern-day audio dramas with sound effects, original music, and contemporary themes. I wrote and directed each while my talented wife, Kathy, wrote and performed the scores for each episode as well as engineered the project. We co-produced. The first CD set will contain six stand-alone stories, the second will be Marc Huntington Adventures. (The stand-alone stories are found in short story format in my book, 13 BODIES: SEVEN TALES OF MURDER & MADNESS. The Huntington dramas are streamlined versions of  DEAD MAN’S FIRE and CHASING KELVIN.) These are a lot of fun, I’m very proud of them, and I think you’ll enjoy them. (Okay, yes, I am a bit biased, but I stand by my statement none-the-less!)

Thom Reese is the author of CHASING KELVIN, DEAD MAN’S FIRE, THE DEMON BAQASH, 13 BODIES: SEVEN TALES OF MURDER AND MADNESS, and THE EMPTY. Thom was the sole writer and co-producer of the weekly audio drama radio program, 21ST CENTURY AUDIO THEATRE. Fourteen of these dramas have since been published for download by Speaking Volumes and two  CD collections of these are set for release in 2012. A native of the Chicago area, Thom currently makes his home in Las Vegas.

CONTACT ME AT thomreeseauthor@yahoo.com for autographed copies or to get on my emailing list to receive notifications on new releases, special pricing, appearances, etc.

Purchase Thom Reese novels at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_10?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=thom+reese&sprefix=thom+reese%2Caps%2C464

CHECK OUT THE NEW AUDIO DRAMA RELEASES AT:  http://speakingvolumes.us/detail.asp?pid=837

Copyright 2012 Thom Reese All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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December 11, 2012

THE WALKING DEAD PHENOMENON: What broadcast networks Can Learn from Cable Dramas by Thom Reese

Filed under: entertainment,horror,media,television — Thom Reese @ 9:52 am
Tags: , ,

Most of you know me as an author and a book lover. Which I am. But, at the heart of this is the fact that I’m a lover of stories. I love fiction. I love tales. Drama, whether grounded in worlds real or imagined enthrall me. All this to say that in addition to books, I love stories told on the screen as well. And as such, I’m very excited about some changes in the television landscape.

I love it when something defies all conventions and expectations. Four years ago when I first learned that The Walking Dead – a comic book series about zombies – was to be launched by AMC as a weekly series, I was excited that something this far outside of the box would make it onto the schedule. Everything went against conventional wisdom. Genre television shows as a rule tend to struggle. There have been exceptions through the years. Star Trek the Next Generation was a huge success, though the original Star Trek series struggled through its entire run and was cancelled after three seasons. Dark Shadows was a hit back in the sixties, but it wasn’t until recently with True Blood that another horror television show has truly succeeded. And True Blood’s numbers, while good, are not earth-shattering.

Enter The Walking Dead. A weekly zombie gore-fest based on a comic book series. It’s not just a hit. It’s a phenomenon. The Walking Dead has done something that no cable television show has ever done before. Not The Sopranos. Not Dexter, Breaking Bad, none of them. The Walking Dead is beating its broadcast competition. There’s a common misconception that, as a rule, cable television is beating broadcast television. After all, cable has most of the cool, trendy shows, the water cooler shows that everyone talks about the next day at work. But, in reality, cable numbers are usually well below broadcast numbers. A cable hit such as Dexter or Homeland might land two million viewers where a broadcast episode of NCIS reaches 12-14 million. Part of this stems from the simple fact that nearly every household in the country has access to broadcast TV while only about 70% of households get cable or satellite.

All the more amazing, that The Walking Dead can now boast 15.2 million viewers.

Look at that number again: 15.2 million.

The Walking Dead has done what no other show has done before by becoming the first ever cable television show to beat every other show in the prime 18-49 age demographic.

A zombie show.

Based on a comic book series.

Why?

I believe the answer is quite simple. It’s a quality show.

As are many other cable dramas. The most talked about dramas on television are all aired on cable networks: Breaking Bad, Homeland, Game of Thrones, Dexter, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy.

What do these shows all have in common?

Many people will jump to the obvious differences between broadcast and cable. On cable television there can be more violence. Profanity is allowed as is nudity. But while these things may appeal to many viewers, in truth, they’re only icing. Very few people return to a show week after week just so they can hear profanity, or catch a glimpse of a breast, or see blood and gore. People don’t watch The Walking Dead because of the gore. In fact, many people watch it in spite of the gore. Viewers don’t tune in to Dexter to see dismemberment, or to game of Thrones simply to see the occasional breast.

They come back because these are quality dramas.

So, what’s different about these shows? What separates them from their broadcast counterparts?

First, let’s look at the broadcast drama paradigm. With only a handful of exceptions, broadcast dramas fall into three categories: crime, medical, and legal. Most series are episodic in nature. As in, the story is introduced and brought to conclusion all in the space of a single episode. There might be some lingering plot arcs that carry through a season, but the primary plot line of each episode is closed in forty-two minutes of actual story.

Not so in these quality cable dramas. There is no set paradigm.  These hits are not traditional in nature. These are not variations on CSI or Law and Order. The Mentalist would never be considered by Showtime or HBO. HBO’s Game of Thrones, based on George R. R. Martin’s amazing book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is a fantasy series – and quite possibly the best series currently on television. Dexter and Breaking Bad both have criminals as their lead characters. Homeland is about terrorism. Mad Men about  an advertising agency.  Sons of Anarchy about bikers.

At common among these programs: Well-developed characters, complex plotting that spreads a single story arc over an entire season or more, and quality acting and production. Game of Thrones is shot on three different continents using real castles and scenery. It looks more like a movie than it does a television show. The Walking Dead has makeup and effects every bit as good as those seen in many horror films. The characters in these shows live and breathe. We, the viewers, want to know what happens to them, how and if they’ll survive.

This brings me back to The Walking Dead. It really isn’t a show about zombies. It’s a show about people. Zombies are the backdrop. It could have just as easily been a post nuclear war setting, an alien invasion, Nazis – anything. The show is about the people. The characters ring true. The viewers come back each week to see if their favorite character survives. And yes, in these quality dramas, central characters can die. It’s not like the broadcast model where everything essentially remains static throughout an entire season with only the season finale to eliminate characters for the next season – the elimination usually having more to do with contract issues than with anything truly plot related. The people in these shows, whether human, alien, hero or villain, are well developed. Characters die or change drastically as a result of events. The scripts are strong, allowing characters to grow and change.

The broadcast networks need to look seriously at the cable drama world. I’m sure there’s quite a bit of head scratching going on in network conference rooms right now. How could a cable zombie show beat us? We’re the major leagues. Who are these upstarts and who do they think they are? But what they need to realize is that now that the viewing public has been exposed to high quality stories in a televised format, they won’t be satisfied with the standard fare. My prediction is that we’ll soon see other cable shows beating their broadcast counterparts. And as this becomes more common, the big four will be forced to adapt. And as they adapt, we’ll see a higher caliber of drama coming to the broadcast airwaves. I look forward to it.

A side note: CBS has announced that it will be producing a television series based on Stephen King’s novel, Under the Dome. Showtime was originally slated to carry the project but CBS snatched it up. (CBS owns Showtime.) My understanding is that the move was made in response to the success of shows such as The Walking Dead. Maybe they’re starting to get the hint. My only hope is that they do the series justice. I loved the book and feel much more comfortable with it in the hands of Showtime than CBS. I hope CBS proves my concern to be unnecessary.

 

Thom Reese is the author of CHASING KELVIN, DEAD MAN’S FIRE, THE DEMON BAQASH, 13 BODIES: SEVEN TALES OF MURDER AND MADNESS, and THE EMPTY. Thom was the sole writer and co-producer of the weekly audio drama radio program, 21ST CENTURY AUDIO THEATRE. Fourteen of these dramas have since been published for download by Speaking Volumes. A native of the Chicago area, Thom currently makes his home in Las Vegas.

CONTACT ME AT thomreeseauthor@yahoo.com for autographed copies or to get on my emailing list to receive notifications on new releases, special pricing, appearances, etc.

Purchase Thom Reese novels at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_10?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=thom+reese&sprefix=thom+reese%2Caps%2C464

SEE ALL OF MY BOOKS AND AUDIO DRAMAS: http://speakingvolumes.us/authors_ebooks.asp?pid=40

Copyright 2012 Thom Reese All Rights Reserved.

 

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