Big War Over 'Big Love'

CBS merely brushed off the controversy that upset many members of the Mormon Church when interviewing HBO's “Big Love” star Bill Paxton on March 16, 2009.

The TV series about a Mormon polygamist has not surprisingly gotten plenty of attention in its three years on air. This time, however, “Big Love” is causing trouble because the March 15 episode showed a highly sacred Mormon temple ceremony. CBS's The Early Show host Chris Wragge mentioned the controversy during an interview with Paxton:

WRAGGE: Yeah, I want to talk a little bit about last night's episode. There was some controversy there. The show depicted, uh, I guess one of the secret elements of the Mormon Church, an endowment ceremony which is not something that's been widely publicized. A lot of people don't know about it … Bill, I know you weren't in the scene. HBO had issued a preemptive apology. Obviously the episode still aired, but it caused a little controversy. As an actor, with something like this when you're on such sensitive territory, how, I mean, you really have to stay right on script here. There's not a lot of variation you can take or any creative liberties, but how tough was a scene like that?

PAXTON: Well, you know, the show is not written arbitrarily. The creators, again, and the writers, they go to extreme lengths to really, you know, try to, you know, create accuracy. And uh this is, this is a series about family and faith. There's very few shows that – you know, most networks don't want to deal with anything that has to do with beliefs because they don't want to offend anybody.

Paxton went on to defend HBO, saying that it would not be wise to censor a show that depicts family and faith. While he hoped no one would take offense, because the controversy began before the episode aired, “it seemed like we were kind of judged before we had our day in court.”

That was enough for Wragge, who moved on to other topics. CBS might have included a statement or response from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They haven't been reticent about the controversy, saying in a statement, “Certainly Church members are offended when their most sacred practices are misrepresented or presented without context or understanding.” However the church declined to take action against HBO. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an institution does not call for boycotts. Such a step would simply generate the kind of controversy that the media loves and in the end would increase audiences for the series.”

The show's creators and executive producers Olsen and Scheffer issued this statement prior to the March 15 episode. “In approaching the dramatization of the endowment ceremony, we knew we had a responsibility to be completely accurate and to show the ceremony in the proper context and with respect. In order to assure the accuracy of the ceremony, it was thoroughly vetted by an adviser who is familiar with temple practices and rituals. This consultant was actually on the set throughout the filming of the scenes to make sure every detail was correct.”

The series has been the subject of controversy since is March 2006 debut. Jaimee Rose of The Arizona Republic writes that “Big Love” has always made Mormons squirm as it shares with Americans a piece of church history that members would rather not discuss. Also, the show often confuses the public into thinking mainstream Mormons are polygamists, which they are not. But this is the first time the show's revealing ways have taken on sacred tenets of the mainstream Mormon faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Erin Brown is an intern at CMI.