HBO and actor-producer Tom Hanks think Utah polygamists are ready for prime time.
Hanks, along with the television network that made a household name of "The Sopranos," is producing "Big Love," a new drama series about a Utah polygamist and his three wives that will premiere sometime in the summer of 2005, according to HBO, which approved the project Monday. The pilot has already been filmed and the network has ordered 10 more episodes.
"It's greenlit and it's going forward," said an HBO spokeswoman who didn't want to be identified. "They'll start writing the episodes. It's just best not to get into too many details. A lot of things change between the pilot [that was filmed] and when you see that pilot as a first episode."
Representatives with Hanks' Playtone production company were unavailable for comment Tuesday. The series' creators, Will Scheffer and Mark Olsen, were also unavailable.
Both HBO and Tom Hanks have an impressive track record on television. In addition to "The Sopranos," HBO earned critical acclaim with "Six Feet Under" and "Sex in the City." Hanks also produced the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers" and "From the Earth to the Moon." HBO received 124 nominations for the upcoming Emmy Awards, far more than any other network.
"Big Love" is a modern-day portrayal of a fictional polygamist family living in an "upscale development" in Utah, according to the script of the pilot episode. The pilot was shot last May in Santa Clarita, Calif.
Bill Paxton, who last starred in "Thunderbirds" and was the lead meteorologist in the disaster epic "Twister," plays the polygamist with three wives, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn (''The Firm"), Chlo' Sevigny (''Boys Don't Cry") and Ginnifer Goodwin (''Mona Lisa Smiles" and the television show ''Ed").
Actors Bruce Dern ('Monster") and Grace Zabriskie ('Twin Peaks") play his parents. The series also co-stars Harry Dean Stanton (''Alien") and Melora Walters (''The Butterfly Effect").
The show is a day-to-day look at one family that strives to be an even-handed depiction of the polygamist culture, according to a source with the network.
It wasn't known if any polygamist families were consulted for the series. But Mary Batchelor, director of the advocacy group Principle Voices of Polygamy, said filmmakers associated with the production requested to sit in on a Bluffdale meeting of the Apostolic United Bretheren - the Owen Allred group - to learn more about how polygamists dress.
"I look forward and am hopeful it will be an honest portrayal. I'm reticent. I'm wondering what their sources are," said Batchelor, a former plural wife who still believes in the principles of polygamy. "Without talking with people who have personal experience in the lifestyle, they can't get an honest portrayal."
Vicki Prunty, director of Tapestry Against Polygamy, a support group for those leaving polygamous families, is reserved in her opinion about the show.
"It just really depends on how it's put together," said Prunty, a former sister wife to Batchelor. "We would hate to see a production that misleads people into polygamy if they glamorized it, if they showed that the grass was greener on the other side. We'll just have to watch and see."