Polygamy Series Riles Utah

This undated publicity photo, provided by HBO, shows the cast of the premium network's new dramatic series, "Big Love," from left, Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ginnifer Goodwin and Chloe Sevigny. Before the premiere of HBO's "Big Love," about a Utah polygamist with three wives, the Beehive state is buzzing. Everyone from practicing polygamists to the Mormon church, which shunned the practice more than a century ago, are anxiously anticipating the cultural fallout. (AP Photo/HBO, Doug Hyun) AP (file)

The upcoming premiere of HBO's "Big Love" is causing a big buzz in the Beehive State.

Everyone from practicing polygamists to the Mormon church — which shunned the practice more than a century ago — are anxiously anticipating the fallout from the show about a Utah polygamist and his three sometimes desperate housewives.

Some worry that the series will perpetuate stereotypes from which the state and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have long sought to distance themselves. Others fear it will diminish the crimes, such as child abuse, reported in some of the state's secretive polygamous sects. And polygamists say they're sure the series won't accurately portray the "boring" reality of their lives.

The program debuts 10 p.m. EST Sunday after the season premiere of "The Sopranos," which spawned bus tours of the show's locations in New Jersey and backlash from some Italian-American groups.

Public perceptions are a concern of the LDS church, which claims 12 million members worldwide.

In 1843, church founder Joseph Smith said he had a revelation from God allowing the practice of plural marriage. In 1890, a subsequent church president, Wilford Woodruff, made public a revelation declaring that church members should stop practicing polygamy. The federal government had required the Utah territory end its endorsement of polygamy as a condition of statehood. Utah became a state in 1896.

Polygamy isn't an issue for modern-day Mormons, said church spokesman Michael Otterson, adding that members understand why polygamy is no longer practiced.

What concerns the church is anything that might make light of the abuse of women and children alleged to occur in some polygamist communities.

"To make polygamy, given those circumstances, the subject of television entertainment is not only a bad idea, but it's going to add to the pain of those victims," Otterson said.

He's also worried that the church could lose some of the ground it has gained in educating the public about the differences between the mainstream church and splinter fundamentalist groups that practice polygamy.

"This, I think, is going to undo some of that. Because you only have to mention Salt Lake City and polygamy and Mormons in the same breath and people will start to get those old stereotypes again," he said.

Otterson said HBO has "gone out of their way to call journalists who got it wrong." But an epilogue statement, which is scheduled to air after the first episode, is inadequate, he said.

The statement says: "According to a joint report issued by the Utah and Arizona attorney general's offices, July 2005, `approximately 20,000 to 40,000 or more people currently practice polygamy in the United States.' The Mormon church officially banned the practice of polygamy in 1890."

HBO has said they feel the epilogue will help clear up any confusion and the show's creators say their program will reinforce the difference.

"We want to make it abundantly clear that our characters are not Mormon, that they wouldn't find any home in the Mormon church. And that works for the dramatic pull of the show," co-creator Mark V. Olsen told The Associated Press.
  • Amy Clark

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