Art Eddy III

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“Under the Dome” Producer and Showrunner Neal Baer Talks About What Fans Can Expect From the Series

Under the Dome”, which premieres Monday, June 24 10:00 ET/PT on CBS, is based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel about a small town that is suddenly and inexplicably sealed off from the rest of the world by a massive transparent dome.

“Under the Dome” stars Mike Vogel, Rachelle Lefevre, Dean Norris, Natalie Martinez, Britt Robertson, Alexander Koch, Colin Ford, Nicholas Strong, Jolene Purdy and Aisha Hinds.

One of the producers and showrunner of this series is Neal Baer. Neal has helped to produce hit TV series such as “ER” and “Law and Order: SVU.” Not only did he make a name for himself in Hollywood, but he also received graduated from Harvard Medical School.

I sat down to chat with Neal to talk about “Under the Dome” and how it was to work with Stephen King. Plus we talked a bit about his time on “ER.”

Art Eddy: “Under the Dome” is an adaptation of the 2009 Stephen King novel with the same name. Can you give me a brief synopsis of the series?

Neal Baer: Imagine living in some small town in the United States and one day inexplicably an invisible dome falls over your town. No one can get in and no one can get out. How would that change your life? That is the basis for the novel and the basis for our show.

We are trapped under the dome and life changes in ways that the citizens of Chester’s Mill never expected.

AE: Stephen King has been working with you on the production of the show. I know he has helped out on past projects that made his books into television series. How is it to work with him?

NB: No, I have never worked with him before. I’ve always been a huge fan of his work going all the way back to “Stand by Me,” “Carrie,” all these great books and short novellas that were made into films. It is really a thrill and honor to work with him.

He came to the set. We shoot in North Carolina for the first few episodes. That was really fun for everybody to see and meet him. He watches all of our episodes and reads our scripts. We chat with him about ideas. It has been really fun.

AE: Is there much difference to the show and your interpretation of the story compared to his novel?

NB: We really see the book as a stepping off place. It allows us to have this really unique format. We have the town of Chester’s Mill. We have a lot of the characters who appear in the book. We have the whole situation.

Then the television show can go week by week and explore in a different way than a novel can. What the lives of the characters are like through dialogue and behavior. Whereas a book is much more descriptive and tells of course what people are thinking.

There is a big difference between the two in that way. We are fortunate to be able to draw on many of the things that Stephen has in his book, but with his blessing we are able to go in other directions as well.

AE: Tell me about the process of casting for this series?

NB: We started casting in November. We cast Dean Norris from “Breaking Bad” as Big Jim Rennie. Rachelle Lefevre from “Twilight” as Julia and Mike Vogel, who was just recently on “Bates Motel” as Barbie.

We have some young actors Britt Robertson, Natalie Martinez, Colin Ford, and Nicholas Strong. A new actor, who literally came into audition for his first audition after college, a guy named Alexander Koch. We cast him as Junior. We cast him off his first audition for television, which really never happens. It must be Hollywood, you know. That is a Hollywood story.

We were so impressed with him. We just think that he is phenomenal. He was doing a lot of work in college and theatre. So he had a lot of training. It is really great to bring on someone who no one has ever seen before.

AE: What can viewers expect out of this series?

NB: There are a number of things that I think are fun about the show. One is that there are a lot of mysteries that we introduce in the first episode. We will give you hints and clues and take you through the mysteries and certainly solve a lot of them.

Then there is the mythology of the dome and what it means and what’s it about as our characters start to explore that. Then just the character elements of being in this hot house under the dome. It is very intense. Secrets that could have been easily kept where you could disappear or leave town. Now you are stuck and secrets start to leak out.

AE: I find it very fascinating on how you studied at Harvard Medical School to become a doctor and you have been the executive producer of hit shows like “ER” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Can you tell me a bit about that journey?

NB: I am from Denver, Colorado. I used to go to movie as a kid. I would take a bus to go to downtown Denver to see movies. I thought I would end up being a doctor, but even before becoming a doctor I was a graduate student at Harvard in sociology. I started taking film making courses because I wasn’t really happy with sociology.

I fell in love with making documentaries. That led me to go to film school in California at the American Film Institute. That led me to start writing. The first show I wrote on was “China Beach.” I also did what was back then called an ABC Afterschool Special that I wrote and directed called “Private Affairs.” That was my first project.

I thought that was what I wanted to do, but I got cold feet when my son was born. I ended up going back to school to medical school at Harvard. When I was in my fourth year, my childhood friend, John Wells, hired me on “China Beach.” He then sent me the script for “ER.” He said ‘What do you think?’ I said it is like my life only it was outdated because Michael Crichton wrote it in 1969. This was 25 years later in 1994.

Stephen Spielberg owned it so he decided it would make a great TV show. John asked me to come back from Boston to work on it for a couple of months to bring some authenticity to it. I ended up staying seven years, but I finished my M.D. and I did residency at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles while I was on “ER” and part of the two years when I was on (“Law and Order) SVU.”

AE: I have always wondered while watching shows like “ER” if the medical jargon the actors are saying is really what a doctor would say. I read that you would help out shows like “ER” with that. Is that correct?

NB: I did the medical stories the first seven years. We always had two doctors on the set. So when Noah Wyle, George Clooney, Eriq La Salle or Anthony Edwards would sew up a wound it looked real. They actually learned how to suture on chicken parts. They would be sewing chicken pieces. Eriq and Noah got really into it. They were taught to make it look real by real emergency physicians who were always on the show from the very beginning.

AE: Speaking of the cast members of “ER.” I heard that George Clooney is known to perform pranks on some film sets. Did he ever do anything like that on “ER?”

NB: Oh yeah! He once took a latex glove and filled it with lubricant. Julianna Margulies had to put the glove on in the scene. It was amazing to see her expression when she grabs the glove and slides her hand in it. She was like, ‘Oh my God.’ That was one of the many things that George did.

To hear the entire interview click here!