New drama ‘Salem’ puts a twist on infamous witch trials

A new original series debuts on WGN America Sunday, April 20, and it’s being produced by the parent company of CBS 6, Tribune Broadcasting. 

“Salem” puts a twist on the infamous Salem witch trials during 17th century Massachusetts.

In this series, there is something worse than a witch hunt: a witch.

Viewers have a behind-the-scenes look at the show’s main characters, costumes and how the creative team built an entire town (just click the video).

“This is a psychosexual horror story about a terrible period in time,” said co-creator, executive producer and writer Brannon Braga. “It’s also a romance, oddly enough.”

Braga says the witches are real because this is not an historical reenactment, but a supernatural thriller.

“We pulled characters from history and made little twists on them,” Braga said.

NewsChannel 3’s Laila Muhammad caught up with the show’s main characters, in Shreveport, Louisiana, where they film the series, in a town, built from scratch to make the show’s setting historically accurate.

Elise Eberle plays Mercy Lewis, a young woman tormented with violent afflictions.

“The devil and evil witches want to use Mercy as a way to create hysteria in town because she’s the reverend’s daughter,” Eberle said.

Iddo Goldberg plays Isaac Walton, the branded outcast.

“Isaac is coming from a place of serious trauma and shame, alienation,” Goldberg said.

There is also a love story brewing in Salem.

Janet Montgomery plays the feared and most powerful woman in Salem, Mary Sibley, who is in love with the courageous and strong-willed war veteran John Alden, portrayed by Shane West.

“She felt like the world had screwed her over so she turned her back on the world in order to survive,” Montgomery said. “Then John comes back and reminds her of the person she was and this part of her that has been lost for so many years. It hurts her and it’s painful for her,” she adds.

“John is genuinely upset when he gets back to town but he has to realize something might have changed. I don’t think he realized it had gotten this far and she would have married the person he hates most in life, essentially,” Shane West.

Most characters will leave you guessing about their true identities.

Seth Gabel plays Cotton Mather, a preacher leading the witch hunt.

“Cotton Mather is very tortured because he’s had an abusive father and he’s a scientist living in an extremely religious world,” Gabel said.

Ashley Madekwe said her mysterious character, Tituba, appears to be Mary Sibley’s servant, on the surface.

“I think when you see them behind closed doors you get a sense the relationship isn’t all that it seems and there may be more of Tituba being a master than a servant,” Madekwe said.

Tamzin merchant describes her character Anne Hale as a fearless girl.

“Anne is definitely a curious, open mind which is quite a rare thing among Puritanical Salem,” Merchant said.

She’s the daughter of Salem’s chief politician, Magistrate Hale, played by Xander Berkeley.

“He saw his parents burned at the stake for heresy as pagans,” Berkeley said. “He has a mask on in public.”

One thing Salem’s characters all have in common: they’re flawed.

For more information on Salem, visit http://wgnamerica.com/shows/salem

Click here to find out what channel WGN America is on your TV. Test your Salem Witch Trial IQ. More SALEM coverage here.