SALEM PREMIERE: Mixing History With Horror

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You've probably seen the ads promoting a new television series called “Salem." The show will make history as WGN America’s first original series when it premieres Sunday, April 20th.

The Tribune Company owns the cable network along with local television stations like WHO.

The network invited reporters from around the country to get a glimpse of what to expect from this supernatural show.

Society was wrapped up in the notorious witch trials of Salem in 1692. Actor Seth Gabel, who plays Cotton Mather, says, "On the surface, the show appears to be one thing, and kind of this period show about this shameful time in American history."

But, the Salem in the show isn’t the same as the town in the 17th century. Actor Xander Berkeley, who plays politician Magistrate Hale, says, "What they're taking is the actual reality and tweaking it."

In this Salem, the witches are real and they aren’t the people you’d expect. Co-Creator Brannon Braga says, "It's ultimately about a character named Mary Sibley who made a deal with the devil to have a better place in society."

He goes on to say, "It's got some socioeconomic political elements that are percolating under the surface. And, it's about empowerment in an oppressive society. And, what would you do to get, gain power."

“Salem” is set in the volatile world of 17th century Massachusetts. But, the show is shot in Shreveport, Louisiana. Some scenes take place on a soundstage. The rest are on a farm about 45 minutes outside of town. Actor Shane West says, "It was easily the best script I had read in a long time."

West stars as the original American hero John Alden. You may remember him from the NBC hit “ER” or in the CW's “Nikita.”

West says, "It's exciting to be a part of anything new really, and how they feel about this. That's a great feeling as well."

Janet Montgomery is the leading lady, playing the beautiful and ruthless Mary Sibley. Berkeley is from shows like "24," "Nikita" and "The Mentalist." He says, “It has everything you could want in terms of history, in terms of witchcraft and magic and conflict and sex."

Ashley Madekwe plays Salem’s most powerful witch Tituba, Tamzin Merchant plays fearless and talented artist Anne Hale, Elise Eberle plays afflicted Mercy Lewis and Iddo Goldberg is branded outcast Isaac. Gabel leads the witch hunt as Mather. Gable says, "Cotton Mather was very prolific with his writings, so I was able to read a lot of essays and letters that he wrote."

All the characters are real people in history with a twist. Braga says, “We change things. It's probably half accurate, half invention."

As far as pushing the envelope with what’s on television, West says, "We're pushing it as far as we can. We're going to some extremes."

Madekwe says, "When there is something that's pushing the envelope, it's really warranted. There's no nudity for nudity's sake. We're not trying to be gratuitous. We're trying to tell the truth of the situation."

Berkeley says, "It's going to be Puritan meets Matrix. It's going to be futuristic, so we break with our preconceived ideas."

“Salem” premieres Sunday, April 20th at 9 p.m. on WGN America. Look for more about the detailed sets and costumes as the premiere nears.


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