HISTORICAL DRAMA: New Series Premieres Sunday

A new supernatural show premieres on a re-branded network this Sunday. You may have seen the ads for the new television series “Salem.” The show premieres Sunday, April 20 on WGN America as the network’s first original series. The Tribune Company is the parent company of the network along with WHO.

This isn’t the 17th century Salem you read about in history books. Actor Xander Berkeley, as Magistrate Hale, says, “What they’re taking is the actual reality and tweaking it.”

In this town, the witches are real and they aren’t the people you’d expect. Actor Seth Gabel, as Cotton Mather, says, “You might think someone is a good person or a bad person, but as you learn more about them, it’s so dynamic.”

The series centers around Mary Sibley, played by Janet Montgomery. She presides over the town, but a deep secret may threaten her position when onetime love interest John Alden, played by Shane West, returns from war. West says, “It’s easily the best script I had read in a long time.”

The show transports viewers to 17th century Salem, Massachusetts, but the series is shot in Shreveport, Louisiana. Some scenes take place on a soundstage, where crews constructed thirty custom sets. Tamzin Merchant, as Anne Hale, says, “The attention to detail is quite astounding.”

The rest happen on a farm 45 minutes from town. About 125 carpenters worked daily for two months building more than 25 buildings on 30 acres of land. Actress Elise Eberle, as Mercy Lewis, says, “The amount of detail and amount of work put into the set, it inspires me to even work harder. It is really incredible.”

The sets resemble history. You may notice the Sibley mansion looks like the House of Seven Gables. Even buildings not existing in colonial times are inspired by books. Production Designer Seth Reed says, “There’s books to read, maybe they’re the abridged version of those books. They had great sketches and paintings. This particular, the brothel, is based on the painting of a famous English painter from the time.”

Even the costumes blend history with modern reality, showing many details that weren’t around in the 17th century. Costume Designer Joseph Porro shows one of Mary’s costumes, saying, “Instead of having it up to here, we’ve reduced it, so I have a little cleavage on my lead actress. We also are using fabrics which are very unusual for the period. They did not wear patent leather in 1690 or creepy vinyl capes. But, we like the look of it. The camera loves the way these fabrics reflect. And, when we’re shooting in these dark rooms with candlelight, this comes to life.”

The costumes, set and script bring the story to life pushing the boundaries of what’s on television. Executive Producer David Von Ancken says, “I would describe it as a semi-action driven love story where every time you turn around, there’s something slightly off-putting and quite horrifying at times.”

Co-Creator Brannon Braga says, “There’s no doubt if you’re skittish, this is probably not the show for you, but the fact is the horrible moments are here and there. It’s really about this epic romance at the center, and all the players in there and the people who will complicate that romance.”

Berkeley says, “It has everything you could want in terms of witchcraft and magic and conflict and sex, and like come on, what more could you want?”

The first episode airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on WGN America. This is the first of three original series. WGN America also has plans for “The Manhattan Project” and “The Ten Commandments.”

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