A (Warts and All) Look At TV's Best Witches

In a TV moment ruled by vampires, ABC is returning to an even older standby: the witch. The upcoming Eastwick, based on the John Updike novel The Witches of Eastwick, stars Rebecca Romijn as the head of a trio of suburban sorceresses. Eastwick is hardly the first program, though, with protagonists who can add comedy or drama just by stirring their cauldron.

It all started in 1964 with Bewitched, the hit sitcom about a witch (Elizabeth Montgomery) and her mortal advertising executive husband, Darrin. Samantha Stephens makes the life of a witch seem pleasantly Betty Draper-ish; she never once battles evil forces, but instead has to reckon with a meddlesome mother and dinner parties for her husband's boss. The conflict, as Nick at Nite viewers surely recall, is that Samantha has forsworn her magical abilities in order to live a "normal" married life, though she often ends up solving problems just at the 22-minute mark with a quick twitch of her nose.

A little later and a bit farther from suburbia, Aaron Spelling brought us Charmed, a soap opera about three Wiccan sisters in San Francisco. Charmed continued to distance television viewers from the notion of witches as spooky old hags with warts, as the Charmed stars looked like—well, like stars on an Aaron Spelling show. Charmed, with its pseudo-mythic battles and dishy leads, begat TNT's short-lived Witchblade, about a police-detective witch. At about the same time, Buffy's friend Willow was learning to cast spells on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Of course, witches—not as violent as werewolves or zombies—are just as often child's play. Witch Hazel on Looney Tunes and Witchiepoo on H.R. Pufnstuf were comically ugly and villainous, but Sabrina on Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996) was more sympathetic to the preteens watching ABC on Friday nights. She had to cope with high school, crushes, and earning a "magic license" (a document that might do the witches of a bit of good, too). Even the Disney Channel has gotten in the game: The Wizards of Waverly Place, starring teen queen Selena Gomez, is about three siblings learning to use magic while working in their parents' sandwich shop.

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If witchcraft has moved over time to a younger and younger viewership—from the desperate housewife of to the aspirational hotties of Charmed to the teenage witches of tween TV—where does that leave Eastwick? Its trio of young-middle-aged women seem more grounded. In other words, don't expect Rebecca Romijn to hop on a broomstick any time soon.

A (Warts and All) Look At TV's Best Witches | News