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Witches elbowing aside vampires and zombies

  • New York Times News Service
  • Published Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, at 12 a.m.

— Evidence of witchcraft was all over the house – actually a soundstage in suburban Vancouver. A wineglass full of feathers. Apothecary bottles filled with dried roots and herbs. The bodies of beetles and scorpions, neatly mounted under glass. A wooden light fixture whose frame, when viewed from a certain angle, suggested a pentagram.

You probably wouldn’t notice the curios, most of them tucked discreetly on shelves or hanging on cluttered walls, unless you knew what they were: the stuff of spells, ancient bits of magic, hiding in plain sight.

They reflect the premise of “Witches of East End,” a series beginning today on Lifetime and based on the best-selling novel by Melissa de la Cruz: that a family of witches, the Beauchamps, has lived in a small Long Island, N.Y., town for centuries. The mother (played by Julia Ormond) has been cursed to see her daughters die horrible deaths, lifetime after lifetime (including once in Salem), because of their powers and those who were threatened by them. So this time around, she hasn’t told the young women what they are or practiced witchcraft in their presence, hoping it will change their fate.

The series is part of a resurgence in witch-theme TV shows, the perhaps inevitable response to a supernatural marketplace already saturated with zombies and vampires. Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story” anthology series begins its third season Wednesday on FX with “Coven,” a New Orleans-based tale of witchcraft and voodoo. WGN America’s first scripted series, “Salem,” scheduled for next year, is set during the 17th-century Massachusetts witch trials.

“Witches of East End” isn’t as dark and gory as “True Blood” or “American Horror Story,” but it isn’t a comedy either.

“The programming landscape has gotten edgier and darker in general,” said Nina Lederman, senior vice president for scripted series at Lifetime, whose programs mostly target a female audience. “In the past, witch stories have had to be campier or have a sense of comedy to succeed, especially for a female audience. I think their taste has evolved.”

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