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Cable network HBO has been deluged with complaints about its new drama, "Big Love," many of them from Mormons who are part of an e-mail campaign aiming to shut down the series about a polygamous family.
In the past week, a chain e-mail has been circulating on the Internet, complaining that the series is full of "parodies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
The alleged parodies include "belief in priesthood by a man blessing his hunting rifle [and] belief in personal revelation from the Holy Ghost by dramatic visions that the polygamous leader discusses casually with a friend," according to the e-mail. "Talk of 'celestial kingdom,' 'free agency' and the 'Choose the Right' slogan are included," it says.
"One wonders why they set the show in Salt Lake City, the church's world headquarters, and why they included distortions of LDS beliefs," the e-mail says.
HBO's corporate headquarters in New York has received "hundreds" of complaints since the e-mail began circulating, said HBO spokeswoman Nancy Lesser. But the network insists the show does not demean or misrepresent the Mormon church.
"The show in no way conflates polygamy with Mormons," the network said in a statement. "We respectfully disagree that any part of the show distorts or disrespects in any way the beliefs of the LDS Church."
The hourlong drama, which airs Sunday nights at 11 p.m., stars Bill Paxton ("Titanic") as a suburban polygamist living in Sandy who is married to three women, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chlo' Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin.
The series depicts the domestic complications of life with three wives and the pains the polygamist takes to keep his lifestyle secret.
The series, which premiered earlier this month, drew 3.7 million viewers nationally last Sunday, a 14 percent increase from the previous week, according to Nielsen Media Research.
In Salt Lake City, the show appears to fare better. While the national ratings dropped about 23 percent from the first to second episode, it only dropped 10 percent in the Salt Lake City market, according to HBO.
"We are really pleased with how well the show is doing," Lesser said.
The unidentified authors of the e-mail hope the campaign will give "Big Love" the ax in the way many conservative groups take credit for canceling NBC's "The Book of Daniel," a controversial drama about a pill-popping Episcopalian priest. (While NBC received more than 600,000 e-mails complaining about "The Book of Daniel," the show was canceled for low ratings, according to the network.)
While HBO has not yet announced whether "Big Love" will be renewed, the ratings make it likely.
That won't be good news for Nicki Rime, a 25-year-old project manager from Orem who received the e-mail Monday and instantly forwarded it to 30 of her friends and family, even though she hasn't seen the show.
"But I have seen some of the previews. There were clips that were really distasteful and what I would not hope to see on television," Rime said.
"I just felt it was important that as citizens we take a stand and write letters that we have entertainment with high morals," she said. "Knowing how Hollywood tends to portray morality and sexual relations in general, I don't trust Hollywood to portray its take on polygamy."
Justin King hasn't seen the show either, but the 24-year-old Brigham Young University student also spread the e-mail to more than a dozen friends and family members.
"Whenever people talk about the Mormon church, there are quite a few negative views that the church still practices polygamy," he said.
It's not known where the e-mail campaign originated. LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said the e-mail did not originate with the church.
But Mormon leaders had earlier expressed concern that viewers might mistake the fundamentalist family depicted in the show as Mormon, even though a disclaimer shown at the end of the premiere episode described the differences.