SALEM — “Bewitched” is more than a television show from the ‘70s, more than a controversial statue in downtown Salem, more than a twitchy nose. Salem, for whom ‘witchcraft’ holds uniquely somber meaning, saw its burden lighten when “Bewitched” was broadcast into tens of millions of homes in America. The show was a cultural influencer with a long reach.
Professor Robert J. Thompson, a guru in the field of television and popular culture, will lecture at The House of the Seven Gables — where one of eight Salem “Bewitched” episodes was filmed — on Wednesday, April 24, at 6:30 p.m. Thompson, a lively and important trailblazer in the study of television and popular culture, will bring additional perspective to The Gables’ new exhibition, “POP! Goes The Gables” and to popular culture’s influence on Salem and The Gables.
Following the lecture, Adam-Michael James, a “Bewitched” enthusiast and author of “The Bewitched Continuum” and “I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin” will join Thompson for a book signing at The Gables Visitor Center, 115 Derby St., Salem. The cost for this lecture is $10. To reserve a seat, those interested may visit 7gables.org or call 978-306-7003.
Thompson says that the television show, which aired in an era when viewing options were far more limited and when families across America gathered together in front of the television, “sanitized the image of the witchcraft trials and put witchcraft in a much more palatable context.” Though Salem’s Haunted Happenings didn’t launch for another 12 years, the precedent for a revised, culturally acceptable version of the witch had already been established.
“I’m going to focus on those eight episodes of ‘Bewitched’ that were filmed in Salem and how they brought Salem into the consciousness of modern American TV viewers,” says Thompson about his talk at The Gables. “It was a big deal. I was just 10 years old when ‘Bewitched’ aired, and as a 10-year-old, most of what I knew about Salem, Massachusetts, was from those episodes of ‘Bewitched.’”
Thompson says he doesn’t want to overstate the importance of the iconic TV show, but he doesn’t want to understate it either. The TV show and, later, the statue on Washington Street, introduced another aspect to Salem’s lore. “I want to talk about the statue, too. It’s been a subject of great debate and great interest. People make pilgrimages to the statue,” says Thompson.
Thompson is the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture and a Trustee Professor of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. Dubbed a “pop culture ambassador” by the Associated Press, Robert Thompson has contributed to hundreds of radio and TV programs and publications.
He is the author or editor of five books: “Television’s Second Golden Age” (Continuum, 1996); “Prime Time, Prime Movers” (Little, Brown, 1992); “Adventures on Prime Time” (Praeger, 1990); and “Television Studies” (Praeger 1989).