Stephen King talks to Damon Lindelof: 6 things we overheard

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We put legendary novelist Stephen King and famed TV and movie screenwriter Damon Lindelof on the phone together and then just sat back and enjoyed the ride as the duo engaged in a rapid-fire exchange about the business of creating and adapting content for the small screen. King has the second season of CBS’ trapped-town drama Under the Dome, based on his book, premiering June 30 (he penned the premiere), while Lindelof has his first series since ABC’s Lost coming to HBO on June 29 — The Leftovers, based on the post-apocalyptic novel by Tom Perrotta, about 2 percent of the world’s population vanishing. Here are six things we overheard:

Lindelof explained The Leftovers is 98 percent a highly realistic drama series, with a dash of 2 percent sci-fi: “What really pulled me into the book was this idea of, okay, so 2 percent of the world’s population disappeared, this book is only 2 percent genre, you know? We’re just going to say this event happened, it happened three years ago, so the book is not about the immediate aftermath and all the rioting and the instability and craziness. It’s going to basically adopt the premise of: The world has almost ended, didn’t end, and now we’re back to playing softball, paying our taxes, going to school. If you look outside the window, it’ll look like it does right now. But if you watch long enough, about two minutes of every 100-minute cycle, something very weird might walk by.”

King on how nobody expected Dome to go beyond one season: “The idea always was it was going to be a 13-episode thing and they were going to button it up at the end, because CBS had no real confidence that it would go on from there … I talked to [Dome writer-EP] Brian
Vaughan after Dome got picked up for a second season. I said: ‘What’s going to happen?’ He said: ‘I have no f—ing idea.’ … [but] the arc of the second season is terrific.”

Lindelof on how Perrotta’s collaboration on The Leftovers helps ground the show: “I just kind of feel like this all came out of Tom’s head and it would be great to have his ongoing creative contribution to the show because I’m liable to spin off into Crazy Genre Mystery Town. And having spent six years of my life there — as much as I love Lost, the sense of sheer relief that I felt once it was done, and just going like, ‘I don’t ever need to do that again.’ And people are like, ‘Well, now it seems like you’re doing that again with The Leftovers,’ and I say, ‘I think there’s a fundamental difference between The Leftovers and Lost.’ … Coming off of Lost it felt like the longer the show went on, the more crazy it had to become, just in order to sustain itself.”

King on the huge qualitative difference made by a network’s episode order: “I will say that it’s a quantum difference between network TV and premium cable … Most primarily, just in terms of how many episodes you need to do. Let’s just think: Would there have been a significant qualitative difference between eight episodes of True Detective, which is what we saw, and 12 episodes? I think that there would be. And I think that one of the things you see on network TV is that the idea of doing 20 episodes per season, it’s kind of like beating something until it doesn’t want to walk anymore. There’s a quantum difference between, say, NCIS and The Americans, and a big difference between True Detective and Bones.”

Lindelof on the perilous exhilaration of writing a TV show without a master plan: “A show like Breaking Bad—which in my opinion is, if not the best, one of the best television series ever—[the producers talked] very openly about the fact they were winging it. You just paint yourself into a corner, and you wait for the paint to dry and then you do it all over again. That’s a very exciting, exhilarating way to do it, but I was beaten about so much on Lost in terms of, like, ‘You have a plan, though, right?’ … The other question that they always ask is how much of an impact do the fans have on the story and they want the answer to that question to be that [they] have tremendous impact. It’s the gladiator arena! If you guys put your thumbs down, we will kill people. And whatever you don’t like, we will change that now. They don’t understand that these are two highly contradictory ideas that they want.”

King on how Josh Boone is progressing on his adaptation of The Stand (reportedly into a single three-hour R-rated film): “When I worked with Mick Garris on the miniseries, it was really sort of a rewarding experience because we had a chance to [focus on] the characters and I think I wrote the entire miniseries just so I could hear Gary Sinise say, ‘Country don’t mean dumb’ … Now I’ve been involved with Josh Boone who did The Fault in Our Stars and he’s working on the screenplay. He’s young and he’s ambitious and he’s totally behind the book and he seems to be doing a great job and seems to have a lot of support behind him from Warner Bros. So I have my fingers crossed, but that’s all that you need to do right? You just cross your fingers and hope.”

Pick up this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly for a more complete version of the interview — plus our summer preview coverage including a look at Showtime’s Masters of Sex and a Game of Thrones finale preview:

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