„Salem“ is produced by 20th Century Fox’s cable production arm Fox21 and Prospect Park, an independent producer. It enters an arena packed with genre storytellers, some astonishingly successful. AMC’s tale of zombie apocalypse „The Walking Dead“ routinely outperformed its scripted cousins on broadcast networks. HBO’s fourth-season premiere of sword-and-dragon fantasy „Game of Thrones“ drew so many viewers that its streaming service was overloaded and shut down.
„Salem,“ which was originally developed for FX, places a twist on the infamous Massachusetts trials. In a departure from the history books, the supernatural drama posits there was good reason for the hysteria: The witches were real and they were running the trials.
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„Knowing that the horror drama and supernatural drama is a genre that’s thriving and the audience seems to have an appetite for is important because it can do some of the heavy lifting for us in terms of drawing audience to the network,“ said Matt Cherniss, president and general manager of WGN America and Tribune Studios.
Of course, the real test will be whether there remains an enthusiasm for witches on TV. „Salem“ is among a spate of recent programs with prominent witches: FX’s „American Horror Story: Coven,“ Lifetime’s „The Witches of East End,“ HBO’s „True Blood,“ NBC’s „Grimm“ and ABC’s „Once Upon a Time.“
But whatever the turnout, it’s likely to boost the network’s weak audience, analysts say. In roughly 65% of homes, WGN America last year attracted an average prime-time audience of 250,000 viewers with a median age of 49.
Tribune spent just over $2 million for each episode of „Salem.“ That figure conforms to industry standards for dramas in cable and broadcast, Horizon Media analyst Brad Adgate said.
A lot was invested in re-creating a realistic early Colonial village. In all, the new world has more than 50 interior and exterior sets, the latter of which sit on 60 acres. Nearly all the show’s costumes were created specifically for the series..
„We didn’t cheap out in any way, shape or form on this. You can’t these days with all that’s out there. You’ll drown,“ said executive producer Brannon Braga, who has also kept busy as a producer on Fox’s „Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.“
„Salem“ also takes full advantage of the freedoms offered by cable. The opening episode showcases some nudity and a sex scene that would be at home in an HBO series.
It’s hard to say whether „Salem“ will be the program that puts the network on the map — like „Mad Men“ did for AMC or „The Sopranos“ did for HBO — but it’s a show that will draw attention, said Sam Armando of Chicago media buying firm SMGx.
„A large part of it might just be getting people talking about the network,“ Armando said. That hasn’t happened till now, he noted, adding: „This is the first call I’ve ever had about WGN.“