SALT LAKE CITY – Think Tony Soprano, but without all the violence or swearing, and with a wife who doesn’t care if he sleeps with other women.
That’s the star of HBO’s new original drama series, called “Big Love,” about a polygamous, fictional Utah family living in the present day.
After viewing a pilot, the cable channel announced this week it had greenlighted the production of 10 episodes, starring Bill Paxton and Chloe Sevigny and produced by Tom Hanks.
HBO has won critical acclaim with original series like “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City” and “Six Feet Under,” dominating the Emmys this year with 124 nominations.
But whether “Big Love” will catch on like its original network programming predecessors remains to be seen.
It figures to be closely watched in Utah, which still carries a stigma in some circles for its polygamous history.
Polygamy is among the teachings of Mormon church founder Joseph Smith. But the practice was abandoned by the church more than a century ago as the territory sought statehood. The Utah Constitution bans it and the mainstream Mormon church now excommunicates those who advocate it.
But it’s believed that tens of thousands in Utah continue the practice, including the well-documented, present-day polygamists in the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
Many remaining polygamists describe themselves as fundamentalist Mormons, living ultra-religious lives in small, secretive sects in the West.
HBO spokeswoman Mara Mikialian said she hadn’t seen the pilot, so she couldn’t provide many specifics about the show. She said she wasn’t sure if the family would be Mormon, but could confirm the show would be shot in California and premiere in 2005.
Rowenna Erickson, co-founder of the anti-polygamy group Tapestry Against Polygamy, said she always appreciates discourse on the issue, but wasn’t sure how it would be framed in the show.
“We’re kind of wondering who their contact people are to give them the information,” she said.