After a deadly plague kills most of the world's population, the remaining survivors split into two groups - one led by a benevolent elder and the other by a malevolent being - to face each other in a final battle between good and evil.
At a government laboratory in California, a weaponized version of influenza is accidentally released, immediately wiping out everyone on staff except for military policeman Charles Campion and his family, who flee the base. However, Campion spreads the superflu, nicknamed "Captain Trips", to the outside world. One of the first sites of infection is at a gas station in Arnette, Texas where Stu Redman (Gary Sinise) and some friends have gathered. While the other townspeople become sick, Stu remains healthy and is confined at a CDC facility in Vermont order to study a possible cure. This proves futile and the superflu rages unchecked, causing civilization to collapse and killing over 99% of the population.
After the infection runs its course, a small group of immune survivors lies scattered across the country. These include rock star Larry Underwood, who has just had his big break but is now stranded in a New York City; Nick Andros, a deaf man in the Midwest; Frannie Goldsmith (Molly Ringwald), a university student in Ogunquit, Maine; Lloyd Henreid (Miguel Ferrer), a criminal stuck in a prison cell; and "Trashcan Man" (Matt Frewer), a mentally ill scavenger. The survivors soon begin having visions, either from kindly Mother Abagail or from the demonic Randall Flagg. The two sets of survivors are instructed to either travel to Nebraska to meet Mother Abagail, or to Las Vegas Valley to join Flagg (Jamey Sheridan).
As their journeys begin, Lloyd is freed from prison by Flagg in exchange for becoming his second in command. Trashcan Man, who is a pyromaniac, destroys a set of fuel tanks outside of Des Moines in order to win Flagg's favor. Larry escapes New York and meets a mysterious woman named Nadine Cross (Laura San Giacomo). Despite their mutual attraction, Nadine is unable to consummate a relationship with Larry because of her visions of Flagg, who commands her to join him as his concubine. Nadine eventually leaves Larry to travel on her own. Stu escapes from the CDC facility and gathers a group of survivors, including Frannie; Harold Lauder (Corin Nemec) a hometown acquaintance of Frannie's; and Glen Bateman (Ray Walston), a retired college professor.
As the group travels west, Harold grows frustrated at the way that Stu assumes leadership and grows close to Frannie. Meanwhile, Nick makes his way across the Midwest, eventually joined by Tom Cullen (Bill Fagerbakke) a gentle mentally challenged man. Eventually, Stu's group reaches Mother Abagail's farm in Hemingford Home, Nebraska. She tells them of a great conflict is imminent and that they must all travel on to Boulder, Colorado. There, the various survivors, including Nick, Tom, and Larry, join with others to form a new community based around Mother Abagail's teachings. Meanwhile, Flagg sets up his own autocratic society in Las Vegas.
Initially, all is well in Boulder. However, Frannie discovers that she is pregnant by her ex-boyfriend, causing her anxiety because she is not sure whether her child will be immune to the superflu. Meanwhile, Harold grows increasingly dissatisfied with his life in Boulder and begins experiencing visions from Flagg. He is soon seduced by Nadine, and decides to follow Flagg's dictates. Mother Abagail, now the spiritual center of Boulder, becomes convinced that she has fallen into the sin of pride, and leaves town to walk in the wilderness. Mother Abagail returns to town and, before passing away, tells Stu, Larry, Glen, and fellow council member Ralph Brentner that they must travel to Las Vegas to confront Flagg.
The plague has taken its toll and only those immune to the virus are alive. The forces of good and evil are slowly taking shape. Those that have been dreaming about Mother Abigail are slowly making their way towards her in Nebraska. Stu Redman joins up with Frannie Goldsmith and others. When Nick Andros and the first of the travelers arrive, Mother Abigail tells them they will soon be moving further west, to Colorado. Randall Flagg is gathering his own forces as he releases Lloyd Henreid from jail. Through her dreams, he also recruits Nadine Cross and Harold.
Hundreds are now in Boulder, Colorado with Mother Abigail but Randall Flagg has sent Nadine Cross to infiltrate the group. Unable to seduce Larry, she then sets her sights on Harold. But just as the citizens begin to organize their lives, Mother Abigail leaves Boulder. The residents do become concerned about what Randall Flagg, based in Las Vegas, may be up to and decide to send three people west to find out.
With winter fast approaching, the four men set out on their quest. While crossing a washed out road, Stu breaks his leg and stays behind while the others continue. Larry, Glen, and Ralph are soon captured by Flagg's forces and forced to endure a show trial before being executed. As they are being tortured, to the delight of Flagg's acolytes, Trashcan Man arrives with a stolen thermonuclear weapon. As Flagg transforms into a demonic visage, a spectral hand reaches out and detonates the bomb, destroying Las Vegas and apparently killing Flagg. Stu is rescued by Tom, who takes him to a nearby cabin to heal as winter sets in. They eventually return to Boulder in the midst of a blinding snow storm. Soon after being reunited with Stu, Frannie gives birth to a healthy baby; a daughter named in honor of Mother Abagail.
- Randall Flagg - Jamey Sheridan
- Abagail Freemantle - Ruby Dee
- Fran Goldsmith - Molly Ringwald
- Stuart Redman - Gary Sinise
- Nick Andros - Rob Lowe
- Tom Cullen - Bill Fagerbakke
- Larry Underwood - Adam Storke
- Glen Bateman - Ray Walston
- Lucy Swann - Bridgit Ryan
- Dayna Jurgens - Kellie Overbey
- Susan Stern - Cynthia Garris
- Harold Lauder - Corin Nemec
- Nadine Cross - Laura San Giacomo
- Julie Lawry - Shawnee Smith
- Lloyd Henreid - Miguel Ferrer
- Andrew "Poke" Freeman - Richard Lineback
- Trashcan Man - Matt Frewer
- Sheriff John Baker - Troy Evans
- Rat Man - Rick Aviles
- Bobby Terry - Sam Raimi
- Barry Dorgan - Chuck Adamson
- Deputy Kingsolver - Jim Haynie
- Ralph Brentner - Peter Van Norden
- Ray Flowers - Kathy Bates (uncredited)
- Major Len Creighton - Robert Knott
- General Starkey - Ed Harris (uncredited)
Moses Gunn had originally been cast as Judge Farris, but shortly after filming had commenced his health declined, and he died shortly after that. Ossie Davis, who was present at the filming because his wife, Ruby Dee, was playing Mother Abagail, took over the role of Judge Farris. Having both starred in previous film adaptations of King's works, Ed Harris and Kathy Bates both had small, uncredited roles in the early parts of the series. Bates's character, Rae Flowers, was originally a man (Ray Flowers), but when Bates became available, King - who wanted her to play the part - rewrote the role as a woman. Harris plays the Army general in charge of the original bio-weapons project who kills himself after the failure of the disease containment.
Rob Lowe had been originally considered for the role of Larry Underwood, but Garris felt that having him in the more unusual role of the deaf and mute Nick Andros would better suit the production (Lowe has been deaf in his right ear since childhood). Adam Storke ended up with the role of Underwood, where his musical skills were an asset
Production Designer Nelson Coates, who garnered an Emmy nomination for his design work, created all 225 sets for the miniseries. Faced with prices of $40 per stalk for New York-made fake cornstalks, Coates opted instead to grow 3,250 cornstalks as a cost-cutting measure; when a winter storm hit Utah, the reproduction of a Nebraska house with cornfield became complicated by the fact that the harsh weather did not allow the corn crop to grow taller than 4 feet. Signs at Rae Flowers' radio station feature the logo of WZON, a real-life radio station in Bangor, Maine, owned by King. Originally, parts of the miniseries were to be filmed on location in Boulder, Colorado. After the passage of Colorado Amendment 2, which nullified local gay rights laws, the production was moved to Utah due to protests.The bulk of the production was filmed in Utah with additional scenes shot in New York City, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Colorado and Ogunquit, Maine (opening scenes of Chapter 2). Filming ran from Feburary 1993 - July 1993. The mini-series aired May 8, May 9, May 11 and May 12, 1994 on ABC Network television. It enjoyed strong ratings.