When CBS All Access's adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand debuted in December, one of the things that viewers noted right away was that the miniseries didn't spend much time on the devastating super-flu nicknamed Captain Trips that wiped out more than 99 percent of the population and left the survivors in what ultimately becomes a battle between good and evil. Instead of digging into the horror of Captain Trips the way King's book does, the adaptation instead moves the story along to the world after Captain Trips, offering enough via flashback to establish the core characters along the way. For series executive producer Benjamin Cavell, the decision to move into what he calls the "meat" of the story comes from the idea that The Stand isn't about the pandemic.
When asked during an interview with Collider if what they knew for sure they could change versus what from the book the had to get exactly right, Cavell mentioned that the timeline was the biggest shift and explained that he didn't feel like the audience would want to spend quite so much time on the pandemic as it's presented in the book.
"I’m not certain that there is a particular set of things where I felt like, 'Oh, those aren’t vital,' or that there was a particular set of things that I felt were. Certainly, I knew that we weren’t going to fundamentally alter the characters and the way that we understand them. We were gonna have those iconic characters that are so iconic in the book as much as possible," Cavell said. "The timeline is probably the biggest shift that we made, and that felt important to me. I love the first third of the book, but I don't know that an audience wants to sit through three episodes of the world dying before we get to the meat of the story. The Stand doesn't seem to me to really be a book about a pandemic. That first third of the book is the narrative of the pandemic, which at this point now, we’ve seen done so brilliantly by Steven Soderbergh in Contagion. It just felt very clear to us that it was gonna be an awful challenge to try to do that better than Steven Soderbergh."
He continued, "The book is about what comes after – this elemental struggle between the forces of Flagg and the forces of Mother Abagail, and the pandemic is a mechanism. If this is King's The Lord of the Rings in the United States, as he has said, then Captain Trips is the mechanism to empty out the world so that the heroes can walk to Mordor. The idea of wallowing in it for the first 300 pages of the book just felt like something we didn't wanna do. And now, given the context in which we find ourselves releasing the show, I feel even better about that approach, but I felt good about it anyway. I stand by the idea that just rubbing people's faces in Captain Trips for episode after episode before we start the real stand part of The Stand just never appealed to me."
Given that The Stand debuted as the world is dealing with its own, real-life pandemic in COVID-19, not dwelling too much on Captain Trips may have been unexpectedly a good choice. Series co-executive producer Taylor Elmore told ComicBook.com about how the series was still filming when the first whispers of what was to come with the coronavirus pandemic started.
"I remember when we were in Vancouver shooting and we started hearing noise about it," Elmore said about the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic. "When then the notices started going up, being taped up in the bathrooms, saying 'wash your hands, be extra careful, there's this cold going around.' And I don't think anybody anticipated just how devastating this was going to be, but we certainly were making jokes about it at first and then, later on, we're not making so many jokes about it. We wound up having to cut the entire show remotely from home, essentially, which is unprecedented for a show this size. I hate to say it was a good challenge because that sort of undercuts how awful everything is that led up to the challenge, but it's been really interesting to try and work. I kind of got this feeling when it started getting awful that it would be no fun to work on the show, but it hasn't been the case at all really. It's been kind of therapeutic really, to get a chance to get through that stuff and see the other side. And, of course, the other side of Captain Trips is a hellscape but hopefully, we'll have better luck."
The first five episodes of The Stand are now streaming on CBS All Access. New episodes arrive every Thursday.