Want to visit the puritanical village of Salem, Mass.? Then you’ll have to take a trip down to Shreveport, La. — that’s where producers of WGN America’s “Salem” have constructed a complete 1690s-style village to film their new supernatural show about the Salem witch trials.
“We had to build Salem,” explains executive producer Brannon Braga at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “This isn’t a period of time where a lot of stuff’s been made … We had to find a very particular large, large piece of land on what could be perceived as an estuary, because Salem, of course, was a crucial port town at this time and was very important to the formation of the America. And whoever controlled Salem controlled the fate of our country, which is part of what this show is about.”
Says star Janet Montgomery, who plays puritan Mary Sibley (a woman who might not be as innocent as her public persona), “It’s not a set. They’re real buildings. If we wanted to do Daniel Day‑Lewis, we could. We could, like, go, like, live in Salem.”
Yes, “Salem” is a period piece, but it’s got a major twist. “Our take on the Salem witch trials is that witches were real and they were running the trials, and that’s what you didn’t know,” says Braga. “The witches are the witch hunters, and there’s a reason that they’re doing it.”
Although the spooky supernatural elements are obviously made up (well, maybe — depending on what you believe about witchcraft), the magic on the show is less fantastical in nature than other witch shows you’ve seen. “A lot of the show is derived from the actual transcripts that do exist of witch trials. Good records were kept of the kinds of things people were accused of. Sometimes animals,” Braga says. “A pig went on trial for being a witch once. That’s actually true.
“Our show is about witches. There are no vampires or werewolves, and we are hoping, and it’s working out really well, that our form of magic is different. It’s more grounded in the kinds of things that people claimed happened at that time — less Harry Potter, more grounded in nature.”
“Salem,” which also stars Shane West, premieres April 20 on WGN America.