If you build it, they will come.
That appears to be the lesson this summer for CBS, which is bucking the traditions of network summer television by presenting Under the Dome, a high-budget, wholly original series during the warm weather months. The show appears to be an out-of-the-box winner, both creatively and financially (read this piece by Vulture’s Josef Adalian on how the show was profitable even before it aired.) The just-released ratings reveal that more than 13 million viewers showed up for the premiere episode — the highest summer rated debut since Big Brother in 2000, and the highest rated summer premiere since 1992′ Malibu Road. The show received a stellar 3.2 rating in the 18-49 demographic.
They will come, indeed.
Based on the novel by Stephen King, Under the Dome depicts the residents of the small town of Chester’s Mill, whose lives are turned upside down when an invisible and impenetrable “dome” suddenly appears, cutting them off from the rest of the world. The pilot episode was as assured a debut as any other network series this season; it struck just the right balance between naturalism, mystery and downright creepiness. I immediately felt myself pulled into the plight of these ordinary folks.
Or are they so ordinary? Junior (Alexander Koch) is certainly not — in the course of the pilot he went from loving, to suicidal, to homicidal. Is he a nutjob, or is this caused by the appearance of the dome? Town outsider Barbie (Mike Vogel) also clearly has a secret, as does Councilman ‘Big Jim’ Rennie (Dean Norris). And why are young people suddenly having seizures and babbling about seeing lines of falling stars?
CBS has clearly not scrimped on production values with this show — it looks absolutely fantastic, and helps amp up the creepiness factor, as well as promotes the uncanny feeling of claustrophobia the characters are feeling. The acting is, for the most part, strong — Britt Robertson, so good a couple of years ago on Life Unexpected, is immediately compelling as the imperiled Angie McCallister, and Norris’ particular brand of bluster and shadiness works well here. Though I’m dazzled by her hair, I’m not yet sold on Rachel LeFevre as the town’s intrepid reporter Julia Shumway, nor do I quite believe Natalie Martinez as inexperienced cop Linda, but they may both end up growing on me.
All in all, I’m thrilled CBS has taken this risk, and I’m even more pleased that it seems to be paying off, both for the network and for the viewer. Hopefully this will encourage the other broadcast networks to take similar gambles in years to come.
Yes, if you build it, and you build it well, they will come.
Did you watch Under the Dome? What did you think? Will you be back for next week’s episode? Let me know.
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