'Darkly Sexual' Salem Is 'Wuthering Heights Meets The Exorcist,' Where Witches Run the Trials

Salem Preview Shane WestThe cast and creators of WGN America’s Salem on Sunday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour fielded some criticisms while also offering provocative teases about the project, which will premiere Sunday, April 20.

VIDEO | Seth Gabel Declares War Against Witches in WGN America’s New Salem Drama

Set in 17th century Massachusetts (but filmed in Shreveport, La.), Salem admittedly runs afoul of the corrective history taught in schools, where we learned that “witch trials” were born of mere paranoia and nothing supernatural. As a press release puts it, the series “reexamines the infamous witch trials” of the time, while Seth Gabel (Fringe), who plays local aristocrat/witch hunt proponent Cotton Mather, explained at TCA, “It questions facts and perceptions and at the same time gives you access for understanding that the truth may be metaphorical.”

Teasing other tweaks, cocreator Brannon Braga (Star Trek: The Next Generation) said, “Our take is that witches were real, and that they were the ones running the trials.” What’s more, Salem will also feature male witches, both actual and accused.

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Braga likened the project to “Wuthering Heights meets The Exorcist,” in that Janet Montgomery’s (Human Target) character, Mary Sibley, has made a deal Salem Preview Janet Montgomery with the devil and her only salvation is the prospect of finding true love with John Alden (Nikita‘s Shane West, who sees his alter ego as “in this world, the first American hero”).

But lest you think Mary is some corset-clad puritan pining for a proper man, know that the producers are promising quite the opposite. For one, she shares what Ashley Madekwe (Revenge) calls a “darkly sexual” bond with Madekwe’s Tituba. Cocreator Adam Simon (The Haunting in Connecticut) describes Mary as equal parts Lady Macbeth and Scarlett O’Hara and says that she and Tituba are “particularly strong female characters that are more complicated, more ambiguous than any you’ve seen [on TV].

“We’ve seen a lot of Tony Sopranos and Walter Whites, men we were fascinated by and loved even though they were led to some very terrible places,” Simon added, “but we’ve almost never gotten to follow a woman through that journey.”

All told, Salem‘s hope is to present a canvas of characters none of whom are easily pigeonholed. As the series unfolds, we will see that “there is evil in people who are not witches,” Gabel said, “and there is good in people who are.”

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33 Comments
  1. rebecca says:

    Salem, MA is the town next to me.. been to majority of the witch trial places via school field trips when I was younger.. so, I am excited to see this!

    • Mikael says:

      I’m from right next to Salem too! Beverly, MA. I’m interested to see how this show plays out. It’s funny that with all the Witch Trials stuff, no one ever mentions that most of what happened back then happened in what is now the town of Danvers.

      • m kerby says:

        Yes. I just found out as my son was researching for Am. History a paper he was to write that it was Danver Farms area. Its also amazing how even the experts don’t see the land-grabbing underbelly of the trials. And of course if you believed differently than the Puritans you could be put to trial to prove…what stupid reasoning. If you float, you’re guilty cuz the water wont recieve you. But if it takes youre innocent.. but dead! Love Monty Pythons take on the time.

  2. ScorpionGlow says:

    I’m definitely going to have to tune in for this. Please keep us posted Matt!

  3. Zorkel says:

    Wuthering Heights?

  4. Diz says:

    Sounds interesting with a great cast.

  5. Francine says:

    Salem history has been a long time love of mine and I’ve visited more times than I can count. That being said, I have no problem with the history not being accurate. It’s a fictional show and I think it sounds pretty interesting. In a sucker for this kind of show so I’m in.

  6. kate says:

    My biggest mystery will be to determine where the hell this channel is (I am from the south shore of Ma so I didn’t do this as class trips…we were Plymouth rock visitors) on my channel line up.

  7. Tori says:

    I wish they release a trailer now, that would give us a solid look at the main characters. Unfortunately the cable channel is not carried on my provider and where I live we are not allowed to have any other provider.

    • L says:

      TO ANYBODY WHO HAS OPTIMUM ON LONG ISLAND THEY SAID TO CALL, CHAT OR EMAIL THEM DIRECTLY AND THEY WILL TRY AND GET US THE SHOW ON ANOTHER CHANNEL. THEY CAN’T CARRY WGN AMERICA BECAUSE ITS A CHICAGO CHANNEL BUT THEY CAN TRY AND GET THE SHOW!

  8. interested says:

    Something I’d definitely want to watch, but simply going by what I’ve seen of him in the past and the picture at the top of this page, I’m really worried about the casting of Shane West. He and period pieces do NOT go well together (anyone remember LXG?) And I’m sorry, but he just looks silly in the picture. On the other hand, any chance I get to see a show with Seth Gabel on it, sign me up. I love that guy. Oh yeah, and and you can never have too many witches.

    • Sylvia Barnes says:

      There not officially witches and do not have the right to be called anything but Satanists. Once again witches have been given a bad rap. These want-to-be should be called one thing, Satanists. Same old story but this time with Satanists doing spells to get the land.

      • maggie says:

        I too am disappointed with this series. I was excited at first and watched the first two episodes, but I’m done now. I think the term Satanists (or anything other than witches) is a good characterization. So far the show has only perpetuated the so-called “black witch-pact-with-the-devil” stereotype and doing so with as much blood, bile, stomach-churning images, and just plain gratuitous violence of the kind that I abhor. I was so looking forward to this–they could have scored with me if they had at least left out some of the gore and shock and created tension between the black/white witch contrast. Very disappointing–I won’t be watching any longer.

  9. liz says:

    Shane West in that wig is an actual crime against the world. Make it stop!

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  13. stacy watkins says:

    i have been waiting to see this and i can not find it any where i have checking every channel could you plz. tell me what channel.. thank you

  14. stacy watkins says:

    nevermind our cable company isnt on your list this suxs thanks anyways

  15. alexandru cadar says:

    It better air now that pos nightcap is ending…it better air at ten here…

  16. alexandru cadar says:

    Cw33…I saw commercials all day for this channel and then it said right now for nine o clock then stupid nightcap plays

  17. alexandru cadar says:

    UTTERALLY DISSAPPOINTED THIS WAS THE ONLY SHOW OTHERP THAN WALKING DEAD AND WE DONT DESERVE TO VIEW THEN WHY FALSE ADVERITISE ALL LAST THREE MONTHS…I REFUSE TO GIVEP THIS NATION MY ATTENTION TO VIEW YOUR MATERIALISTC METHODS OF TELEVISION…HIGHLY DISSAPPOINTED LACK OF COMMUNICATION AND EXPLANATION PATHETIC GOOD LIFETIME TO YOU ALL COMPANIES

  18. Sylvia Barnes says:

    Witches practice a harm ye none rule and only satanists worship a Christian god called the devil. Once again, witches are given an incorrect story. So, I won’t be watching this once again same old story about Satanists working against Salem politics and property owners

  19. Joan Thompson says:

    I watched the first episode on Sunday evening and won’t watch anymore. I was disappointed the show didn’t stick to the facts and had to show “Hollywood ghouls and gore” simply to get our attention. Probably for the younger generation – for tweens and teens, etc

    • r says:

      I would not want my tweens and teens watching this crap. I turned it off at the horrible sex scene and won’t turn it back on. I was shocked and horrified.

  20. helen says:

    I waited all week to watch “Salem” and kept seeing ads for it, but when I heard it was coming on next, it certainly didn’t. What’s up with that?

  21. michal says:

    doesn’t come on wgn channel 9 in chicago

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  23. K says:

    i live in MA how come the show Salem is not broadcast on any cable channels in MA on ET and CT locations???? really people???

  24. Danielle tiendrebeogo says:

    Best show every this the one show me and my husband long for each week Can’t wait til spring

  25. I can’t wait until April 20th for the 2nd season! I NEED IT BACK ON NOW!
    Thank you for an awesome series and Capt. Alden!
    Sincerely,
    Candy

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