Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic fantasy novel The Stand was first published in 1978. In 1990, the book was reprinted as an uncut version.
The story tells of a world practically wiped out by a plague dubbed Captain Trips. This culminates in a struggle between good and evil; played out by the followers of Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) and the Darkman, Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgard).
Showrunner and Executive Producer Benjamin Cavell spoke with the TV Critics Association last week. Of course, acknowledging the frightening parallel that permeates our world today. The miniseries is going to be streamed on CBS Access starting December 17th, 2020.
The Stand - Showrunner Benjamin Cavell
Benjamin Cavell, Showrunner and Executive Producer of The Stand ©2020 CBS Interactive

Good vs Evil

When did you first start to think of the project? And when did you realize that with the pandemic people were going to see this in a totally different way?

The Stand - Owen Teague
Owen Teague as Harold Lauder with mask in The Stand ©2020 CBS Interactive, photo by Robert Falconer

Benjamin Cavell: I came on board this project three years ago. We were developing it having no idea that it would have this resonance with anything that we’re going through. It’s important for me to say that.

Frankly, I’ve never regarded The Stand as a book about a pandemic. The pandemic exists as a mechanism to empty out the world so that there can be this elemental struggle between good and evil. I hesitate even using those words, but between the forces that are united behind Mother Abagail and the forces that are united behind the Darkman.

King has been very upfront about the idea that this book was his attempt to do Lord of the Rings in America. And in order to empty out America for the walk to Mordor, there needs to be something. That something was Captain Trips. We are obviously adapting the book and doing right by that and the plague that is portrayed in (it).

I won’t say it wasn’t surreal for all of us when we were in Vancouver. (It was) in the early part of this year and (we) realized what was happening. (We) were following the news. Our last day of shooting in Vancouver was March 11. We wrapped actually at daybreak on March 12.

The Stand - Masked people

I know we all felt the weight of responsibility to do right by our iconic source material. We know what this book means to people. We had a lot of updating to do to make a 42-year-old book feel relevant to our modern day. Little did we know how relevant it would come to feel. But we were determined to maintain the soul of Stephen King’s masterpiece and of these iconic characters.

Original Coda by Stephen King

Is your version of The Stand based on the expanded edition of the book? And what makes that different from the previous TV version of The Stand?

Benjamin: We are an adaptation of the extended version. (But) we had to make some decisions to include or not include some things that are in (that) version.

We also have some original material by Stephen King. He wrote a Coda. That is our ninth episode. I really don’t want to say much about that because it’s going to be completely new to the entire audience.

The Stand - Odessa Young
Odessa Young as Frannie Goldsmith in The Stand ©2020 CBS Interactive, photo James Minchin

He wanted to do the Coda (because) he’d been thinking for 30 years that Frannie (Odessa Young) doesn’t go on the stand. She’s seven, eight months pregnant by that point. She can’t walk across the mountains to confront the Darkman. She wasn’t there as one of the heroes of the book. It is his planned attempt of the last 30 years to give her her stand.

What kind of questions did you have for Stephen King? And did you ever get a chance to ask him?

Benjamin: King read and signed off on every draft of every script. (He) is obviously an artist and a storyteller. Therefore (he) understands that for this to be done righteously, he couldn’t micromanage it, and didn’t want to. He trusted our vision and wanted us to make the show we were making.

The Stand - Alexander Skarsgård
Alexander Skarsgård as Randall Flagg in The Stand ©2020 CBS Interactive, photo by Robert Falconer

Delete wonderful

Was there anything specific that Mr King liked or didn’t like?

Benjamin: He loved the first couple of scripts we sent him. As soon as he read them, he felt like you clearly know the show you are making, it’s terrific. You have a handle on it.

(There was) only (one) note that he sent on a script asking us to remove something. (It was one) in which it said in the stage direction that there’s a wonderful Steve Winwood song on. And the note came back from (him), ‘I love this script, except for the idea that this Steve Winwood song is wonderful. Everybody knows it’s not one of his stronger works.’ That was literally the extent of his pushback the entire run of the show. Apologizes to Steve Winwood.

Stephen King cameo?

In the 1994 TV miniseries, Stephen King was in it briefly. Any chance we’re going to see him in this version?

Benjamin: I would say there’s a chance that you may see him this time!

Soundbyte

Benjamin was asked about the harrowing visions of the pandemic in this version – click her to listen to his reply.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.