The Isolation Zone: ‘Under the Dome’ and ‘Siberia’

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Nobody ever said TV networks programmed their schedules to help their viewers, what with putting shows in the ridiculous “Friday night death slot” and pitting shows likely to appeal to the same audience on opposite each other.

There’s some of the latter going on this summer – although probably not for long – with CBS airing its adaptation of Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” on Mondays opposite NBC’s “Siberia.” Although that should be the other way around, with “Under the Dome” beginning a week earlier than its no-name rival.

If you’re not familiar with “Under the Dome,” it’s based on King’s 2009 novel about the small town of Chester’s Mill, cut off from the outside world by a see-through but impenetrable dome. No one can get in or get out and viewers will find out what’s really going on by the end of the 12-week miniseries (readers of the book know it’s an ending that combines elements of “The Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek,” although they’ve supposedly rewritten the ending for the miniseries).

And how much of an ending are we going to get, anyway? I’ve read somewhere that King and the producers intend to continue the series next summer. Hmmm.

Anyway, in the meantime, some typical but still enjoyable King characters fill out the town of Chester’s Mill, including the mysterious hero, the spunky heroine, the town boss and his psycho son (well, the latter character’s not a favorite of mine).

Siberia

Over on NBC, “Siberia” is trying something a little different that is, at the same time, beholden to such movies as “The Blair Witch Project” and shows like “Survivor.”

In the first episode, 16 varying types – the diva, the nice girl, the down-home guy, the grumpy old man – are transported by the producers of a reality show to the wilds of Siberia. Once there, they’re told they have to survive for an unspecified period of time without quitting. The survivors get to split $500,000.

The show employs the reality show conventions we all know so well by now, with an omnipotent host who appears and disappears and everyone identified by name, profession and home town in subtitles accompanying look-into-the-camera “confessions.”

By the end of the first episode, however, it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t a standard reality show, as things take a violent turn.

For now, I’m keeping up with “Under the Dome” but I’m hoping things begin to boil pretty soon. As for “Siberia,” I’m not sold on it yet. I’ll try another episode to see what the producers have in mind.

So far, “Under the Dome” is beating “Siberia” in the ratings, so the question of how the “reality” show plays out may soon be moot.

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