January 12, 2014 12:11pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Salem' EP Says WGN Drama is Grounded in Reality, Less 'Harry Potter'
WGN America -- fresh off green lighting a Ten Commandments miniseries -- debuted Salem, its first scripted series Sunday at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour.
The series stars Nikita's Shane West, Arrow's Seth Gabel and Janet Montgomery and explores the dark, supernatural truth hiding behind the veil of this ignominious period in American history. The witches featured are real, but they are not who or what they seem. The series, centered on an epic romance wrapped around an explosive revelation, delivers a bold new vision of Salem -- and an even bolder new vision of witches.
"Our take on the Salem witch trials is that witches were real and they were running the trials, that's what our show is," showrunner Brannon Braga (Terra Nova) told reporters. "The show comes from transcripts of the witch trials. Good records were kept of the things people were accused of. … Our show is about witches; there are no vampires or werewolves. We are hoping our form of magic is different; it's more grounded in the kind of things people claimed happened at the time. It's less Harry Potter and more grounded in nature."
Gabel, who portrays Cotton Mather, the man charged with overseeing the witch hunts, says the series explores perception and questions fact vs. fiction. "How do we know that the stories we were told about history are true? It questions those facts and perceptions and at the same time gives you an access for understanding that the truth may be metaphorical," he said. "You can experience what it was like to be in Salem and live there. If you believe in God and the devil, how does that change your mindset?"
Producers promised creepy scenes that viewers have not seen before on TV -- including a frog coming from someone's throat which Braga described as a coma-inducing agent that witches use to keep people in control. The executive producer stressed that the series is grounded in history, with many of the characters featured in Salem based on real people.
"This is not just one of the worst moments in American history, it's the worst and the first and it sets the tone of what will happen hundreds of years later," Braga said, calling the series historically accurate in a lot of ways. "We asked ourselves why it keeps happening."
Gabel noted that the series provides an "illustrated version" of the Salem witch trials more than the history books do, while exec producer Adam Simon noted that scenes in Salem that many people will think didn't actually happen are the ones most likely to have occurred during the 1700s.
Salem will premiere Sunday, April 20 on WGN America.