"Big Love," HBO's television drama about a polygamous Utah family, will air an episode March 15 depicting a sacred and private LDS temple ceremony, prompting an official response from the church criticizing the network.
According to a TV Guide interview with series creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer published in this week's magazine, both said the episode will include the depiction of an endowment ceremony within a Mormon temple. Only LDS members with a temple recommend and in good standing may witness such ceremonies.
"We go into the endowment room and the celestial room, and we present what happens in those ceremonies," Olsen told TV Guide . "That's never been shown on television before."
In order to portray the ceremonies accurately, Olsen and Scheffer said they "researched it out the wazoo" and hired an "ex-Mormon consultant" for help in the scenes, including sets and costuming. HBO confirmed the episode's scenes Monday. "But it's not for shock value," Olsen said. "It's really a very important part of the story."
News of the episode hit the Internet last week, prompting talk of boycotts of the network and e-mail chains to church members to cancel their subscriptions to AOL, which along with Time Warner, owns the pay cable network.
Olsen and Scheffer were editing the season finale Monday and unavailable for comment. They are expected to release a statement about the controversy today.
In response to the upcoming episode, which has not been seen outside the network, the LDS Church issued a statement Monday criticizing depictions of the church generally in the news media and Hollywood, and specifically in "Big Love."
"Now comes another series of 'Big Love,' and despite earlier assurances from HBO, it once again blurs the distinctions between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the show's fictional non-Mormon characters and their practices. Such things say much more about the insensitivities of writers, producers and TV executives than they say about Latter-day Saints."
The series stars Bill Paxton ("Titanic") as Bill Henrickson, the owner of a chain of hardware stores, who is married to three wives, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin.
For three seasons, the show has depicted the trials of running such a complicated household, including various depictions of mainstream Mormon characters and practices.
"Before the first season of the HBO series 'Big Love' aired more than two years ago, the show's creators and HBO executives assured the Church that the series wouldn't be about Mormons," the LDS statement read. "However, Internet references to 'Big Love' indicate that more and more Mormon themes are now being woven into the show and that the characters are often unsympathetic figures who come across as narrow and self-righteous."