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Stephen King: Under the Dome "Off the Rails"; Praises Mr. Mercedes
To say that author Stephen King has a few adaptations in the works is as big an understatement as saying a beach has a few grains of sand on it (though King might have more adaptations. As we speak, Mr. Mercedes is finding new eyeballs and a new lovefest on Peacock (though King "shared universe" series Castle Rock was recently given the ax by Hulu). Over on HBO, King unofficially confirmed there will be a second season of hit series The Outsider– and let's not forget about CBS All Access' limited series adaptation of The Stand dropping next month.
So with that in mind, King sat down with The Washington Post to discuss the best ways to adapt his works- as well as offer up examples of those attempts that didn't quite make the cut. For King, CBS's series take on Under the Dome was a perfect example of a missed opportunity- primarily because (unlike Mr. Mercedes) the characters and their actions never rang true. "'Under the Dome' was one I felt like went entirely off the rails because the people are doing things that don't seem realistic. One thing that killed me was you never hear the sound of a generator anywhere. The electric power is fine. Everything looks clean. Everything is great, except that they're cut off from the world. And that isn't what would happen…If you ask people to accept those ideas, there has to be a sense of realism that goes with it, that pulls you along," King explained. "If you ask people to accept those ideas, there has to be a sense of realism that goes with it, that pulls you along."
Agreeing with The Outsider showrunner Richard Price that an adaptation can't be "too respectful" to the work, King cited the changes that Mr. Mercedes made to his novels that worked for the series. "There are things in "Mr. Mercedes" — I don't want to go into spoilers — but there are things that aren't in the books that I really love. Let me give you just one: There's a sequence in the third season where a guy gets his nose shot off, and that's like an Elmore Leonard thing. It's not in any of the books, but it works perfectly in the show," King revealed. "A lot of times, I think the things that actually work are things that respect [the intent of the novel] but at the same time are very visual." And while King likes to have some level of say in most of his adaptations (for example, having script approval for Mr. Mercedes), he also understands the need to let the series folk work their magic: "If you're going to really succeed in this business, get people you know are talented and then say, 'Okay, I'm going to step back. I'm not going to be looking over your shoulder and fiddling in your stuff. Go ahead and do the stuff you're good at doing.'"
For King, transitioning his works from page to screen comes down to having the time to introduce the characters to the viewers- to give yourself enough time to tell their tales. "One of the things I try to do in the books is play fair with all the characters and try to respect them and love them. What I really love to do, and I think I've had some success for this, is for readers to feel like they know all the characters. That they're getting a feel of roundness in the characters, the good stuff the bad stuff. I want you to care about the people. The good people, I want you to fall in love with. … The bad people, I want you to see why they're bad." King cites Mr. Mercedes as an example of an adaptation that made the most of its three seasons: "That's enough time so that if the characters are just cardboard cutouts after all that time, then you did something wrong, and the people you hired to adapt this thing and who were interested in it did something wrong."