WGN America‘s first original scripted drama, Salem, is set in the world of 17th century Massachusetts. Only, in the TV version of the actual events, the witches are real and it’s “an even bolder new version of witches,” WGN promises. Yes, Tribune-owned WGN is turning one of this country’s most shameful periods of injustice, mass hysteria and persecution into a sexy, dark exploration of Satanism.
“Our take on the trials is that the witches were real, and running the trials,” creator Brannon Braga, who’s EP-ing the series, told TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2013. Some of whom did not take it well, and suggested WGN was doing an offensive re-writing of history. The witches, Braga explained, are are in league with their persecutors “and there’s a reason they’re doing it.”
Fellow EP Adam Simon insisted that in the 17th century everyone believed in witches. And the two men insisted the series in no way belittles the “terrible social issues” of that episode in our country’s , “In fact, quite the contrary,” they said. It’s a retelling, an alternate history – but, Not Exploitation.
In fact, the project is being done for the sake of actresses, they said. Why should men get all the good anti-hero roles like Tony Soprano and Walter White, they wondered. Women too should be able to journey “to a very dark place,” Simon said.
“What’s exciting for me is to read a character that does some really horrific things,” said lucky actress Janet Montgomery, who plays the series Baddest Woman, Mary Sibley. “You don’t get the opportunity” like this particularly on TV, where, she complained. “Nobody wants to see a woman dealing drugs (like Walter White) and it’s really important to see some nasty piece of work on the screen.”
Especially, Simon noted, a nasty piece of work who is as lovely as is Montgomery.
After their Q&A session, some offended TV critics wondered whether WGN is next planning a drama series in which black slaves in this country’s early history were portrayed as being demons. “12 Years a Demon,” snarked one.
In June, two months after Matt Cherniss was named president and general manager of WGN and indicated he would be looking for a scripted series to define WGN, the superstation greenlit its first original scripted series, drama Salem. The project, from Star Trek and 24 alum Brannon Braga, Adam Simon (The Haunting In Connecticut) and Fox21, received a straight-to-series 13-episode order. Salem, originally was developed for FX.