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‘Under the Dome’ returns with a King-penned episode

In real world terms, the TV series adaptation of Stephen King’s best-selling novel “Under the Dome” held CBS viewers captivated for 13 weeks last summer and pretty much rewrote the book on network programming strategy during the “off season.”

In the show’s setting of rustic Chester’s Mill, Maine, however, it’s only been two weeks since a mysterious transparent dome slammed down on the town, cutting it off from the world around it. As the thriller returns Monday, events pick up at the same fever pitch where they left off at the end of Season 1.

As fans will remember, that means the show’s de facto hero, Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel), is standing on a scaffold about to be hanged after being framed for a murder actually committed by power-mad city councilman “Big Jim” Rennie (Dean Norris, “Breaking Bad”). Barbie’s execution is interrupted, though, as the Dome goes nuts, emitting a series of high-powered magnetic pulses that causes most of the townspeople to lose consciousness and draws anything magnetic – like guns, and nails that are, you know, holding buildings together – irresistibly to its invisible walls.

During a break in production on the show’s set near Wilmington, N.C., Vogel tells a visiting reporter that he’s happy his TV alter-ego escaped the noose, but he assumes nothing as the show continues to unfold.

“There’s always that thing in the back of our minds that it’s a Stephen King show and anyone at any time can go anywhere,” he said. “There’s a lot of secrets coming up this season, which is exciting for us, because that’s the rich stuff we get to play with.”

The actor may be especially mindful of King’s influence because the horror king is on the set that day to watch the season premiere – which he wrote – being filmed.

“After the first season, I went to Neal Baer and Brian Vaughn, the producers of the show, because I was fascinated with what they had done, especially with Mike Vogel as Barbie,” King said. “So I asked, ‘Would you like me to write the first episode of Season 2?’ and they said yes, and I said, ‘OK, well, tell me what’s going to happen. How does the arc go?’ And they said, ‘We have no idea.’ To me that was like a blank check. So we sat down and started to figure it out.”

King, who also has a tiny cameo in the season premiere as a diner customer seeking a coffee refill, said he also wanted to be a part of this particular episode because, on top of several other surprises, it includes the death of a couple of very popular characters. That’s par for the course, however, in this TV world that’s the shared vision of King and executive producers Neal Baer and Brian K. Vaughan.

“We all saw it the same way, that nobody should be safe under the Dome, that everybody was eligible to go,” King said. “We talked very, very seriously about hanging Barbie at the end of Season 1, and CBS said, ‘You can’t do that, because we all love him.’ That was a great vote of confidence in Mike, and I’m glad he’s stuck around.”

“To have a little window into Stephen’s head is pretty darn cool,” the actor said. “The things that he is envisioning and wanting for this season’s characters is exactly what we want. It will come down to whether we can convince CBS of it. ”