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'Salem' is the first scripted series for WGN with Janet Montgomery & Shane West

Shane West as John Alden in "Salem."
Shane West as John Alden in "Salem."

WGN enters the scripted series race tonight with "Salem," filmed in Shreveport, Louisiana, where the sets for the 17th century town were built from scratch. There hasn't been a preponderance of movies or TV shows situated in that era, so there weren't a lot of costumes or artifacts available from previous productions to rent.

"We had to find a very particular large piece of land on what could be perceived as an estuary, because Salem, of course, was a crucial port town at the time and was very important to the formation of the America," says executive producer Brannon Braga. "So we had a very talented production designer named Michael Hanan, who built Salem, and it's the most amazing set I've ever worked on."

"Salem" is the story of one of the worst moments in early American history -- the Salem witch trials -- but the producers say they are looking at it in a different light than previous TV shows and films.

"Our take on the Salem witch trials is that witches were real and they were running the trials," Braga adds. "What they're doing, what they're up to and all that is what the show is all about."

They are also comparing their leading lady -- Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) -- to Tony Soprano from "The Sopranos" and Walter White from "Breaking Bad," men who were fascinating to watch but went to some very dark places.

"Janet's character [is] both the hero and the villain of the piece, which, I think, is kind of unique," says executive producer Adam Simon. "To mix my metaphors, she's Lady Macbeth and Scarlett O'Hara. She's a women in trouble who's causing trouble. It's just a really interesting character."

In addition to building the set from scratch, the costumes were designed especially for the series by Joseph Porro.

"We have a brilliant costume designer, but it means that everything is authentic," says the British-born Montgomery. "I've done period dramas in England before, and usually [we don't wear] the full‑on corset, whereas he's like, 'Let's get you down to a 16‑inch waist.' I'm like, gasp, trying to breathe on set, but it's actually quite good for the character, as well, because you find yourself pulled up and it helps command power."

"Salem," which also stars Shane West as John Alden, airs on WGN Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT on WGN.

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