Gus Van Sant to Direct Jenji Kohan’s Salem Witch Trials Pilot for HBO

     February 20, 2015

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HBO is heading to Salem. The network has ordered to pilot New World, a potential new drama series from Orange Is the New Black and Weeds creator Jenji Kohan that takes place during the Salem witch trials. Described as a provocative period drama, the show “explores the circumstances around one of the most compelling chapters in American history where intolerance and repression set neighbor against neighbor and led a town to mass hysteria.” HBO has yet to confirm the Salem setting, but that’s believed to be the central premise and production will be taking place in Boston so…come on.

jenji-kohan-new-worldMost excitingly, Deadline reports that Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant is onboard to helm the pilot, which was co-written by Kohan, Bruce Miller (Alphas), and Tracy Miller. Van Sant has been doing his own thing for a while now, but his latest feature film was his most commercial project in years: the somewhat disappointing Promised Land. But the prospect of Van Sant adding his sensibilities to the Salem witch trials is mighty promising.

The project has apparently been in the works for years, but if ordered to series, it would mark Kohan’s first new show since Orange Is the New Black debuted on Netflix and invaded the zeitgeist. Having watched and mostly appreciated Weeds, I tuned into Orange expecting another amusing half-hour comedy, but Kohan crafted a more dramatic, darker, and deeper piece with that show. Her move into straight drama territory with New World is even more of a departure.

It must be said that star-power doesn’t always translate into a series order at HBO. The network is famously picky, even passing on the apparent slam-dunk of Noah Baumbach’s The Corrections, which had a star-studded cast. Right now the order is only for a pilot of New World, so we should know more about the show’s future later this year. Casting is underway with filming set to begin in Boston this spring.

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