FULL COVERAGE: Summer TV preview

Added Vaughan: "Planet Earth is surrounded by a dome, and we're all trapped here too," saying that Spielberg even told him that the show had things in common with the director's "Lincoln." "It's about how you build a democracy from the ground up," Vaughan recalled the director saying.

Originally submitted as a film and later developed as a Showtime series, "Dome" eventually migrated to corporate sister CBS, whose executives had quietly been observing the success cable has found with summer originals and wanted a go-to property.

If it works, the show could be renewed for next summer or even get a winter run, say executives. "Our feeling is that this show, with the people behind it and the kind of storytelling they bring, can have a run well beyond this summer if everything goes well," said CBS' president of entertainment Nina Tassler.

She acknowledged that it's the most serialized of CBS shows currently on the air but said the division of the season into essentially three chapters of three or four episodes each--as well as a unique streaming deal with Amazon that will see episodes available online over the course of the season--will alllow for viewers to enter midway through.

CBS is also banking in large part on the presence of the big names. The show's principals maintain that these figures offer more than just endorsements. King visited the set during shooting of the first episode and has given what Bender describes as "cheerleading" notes throughout the process. Though delegating day-to-day duties to Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank, Spielberg has been engaged too, approving choices as mundane as a production designer and directors for individual episodes.

Meanwhile, the actors bring their own followings, including Vogel from his turn on this year's "Psycho" prequel series "Bates Motel," Norris as Walt White's complicated brother-in-law on "Breaking Bad" and Lefevre from her turn in the "Twilight" film franchise.

The effects could also draw summertime film fans, show runners hope; though they declined to offer a budget figure, they acknowledged that the computer-generated effects associated with the dome do not come cheap, even if the thing itself is mostly invisible.

Back on the Wilmington set (the city was chosen in part because it is in rebate-rich North Carolina but also because it and its surrounding towns offers an abundance of spots with an intimate small-town feeling) some of the remnants of the effects can be seen, including a piece of a plane that has been used in a crash and a fake cow — or rather, half of it, split lengthwise in the first episode when the dome comes down right on it. The show splurges on, and delights in, trappings like this.

"We can have a sense of fun without losing sight of the larger points we want to get across," Bender said. "'Lost' controlled us. I think we can make this big and exciting but still control it."