When CBS announced that they were doing a mini-series adaptation of Stephen King's obese science fiction novel Under The Dome, I gave them some tentative kudos. I've long advocated that television was a good medium for adapting large works of fiction that would otherwise be butchered by any attempt to squeeze them into the limited running time of a feature film.
I was tentative because I know how major broadcast networks think, and I know that if there was a way to screw up a good idea, networks executives would find it, and jump on it.
I had hoped that CBS was smart enough to avoid the temptation, but hope is the handmaiden of disappointment.
How did they screw it up?
That means that they've reneged on their promise of a faithful adaptation of a best-selling novel, and will butcher it in the opposite direction of feature films by trying to transform it into an open ended serial.
Now I can understand that the show is doing well in the ratings, and when something does well, the urge among TV executives to try to stretch it out forever.
However, that wasn't the sales pitch that got people to watch the show.
The sales pitch was that the show promised a set beginning, middle, and ending.
Now that sales pitch is out the window, and those who have watched the show, can now just forget about resolution, because the network's going to start plopping Lost-style out-of-our-ass plot twists to try to keep this gravy train rolling.
Of course, it'll stop being a gravy train, so the network would then scramble to win the ex-viewers back and it all becomes an exercise in flogging a dead horse. Eventually it'll be cancelled, probably on a cliffhanger season finale because they thought they were going to squeeze out a third.
Now was there a way for CBS to avoid this screw up?
It boils down to branding.
When CBS first announced Under The Dome, they should have referred to it as the first "CBS Novel For Television." And when it started doing well they should have bought another hefty best-seller and put it into production as the next "CBS Novel For Television" and promoted it as such.
Then, when Summer 2014 approached, the audience that enjoyed Under The Dome would see the ads for the next "CBS Novel For Television" and think: "Oh, I think I'll give that show a chance."
Then CBS would have a franchise that's not based on any single story being stretched beyond its limits. As long as they maintain a standard of source material, and production quality they could probably maintain a healthy viewership.
But that would take a little more effort than just ordering a second season and letting the poor show-runners figure it out for you.