'Polygamy USA' examines Arizona's other polygamists

Published May 10, 2013 12:07 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

What do you know about Centennial Park, Ariz.?

Whatever the answer, you're about to learn a lot more thanks to "Polygamy USA," a new series that premiered Tuesday on the National Geographic Channel. According to the website, the show offers an unprecedented look at the "rites, rituals and lives" of the polygamists living in the community just down the road from Colorado City. The show airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. MDT.

So how good is it?

I've only watched the first few minutes of the first episode — which begins with the story of 30-year-old Isaiah Thomson — but so far I found it engaging. Isaiah is a dead ringer for an old college roommate I once had, and his family seems charming and ... very ordinary.

Which is to say I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the show.

I'm also excited to see the show because I recently talked to the executive producers and got something of an inside scoop on the production. During a conversation Thursday morning, Amy Bucher and Greg Henry told me that "Polygamy USA" is the product of about two years of work cultivating a relationship with the folks in Centennial Park. That work ultimately gave them the access to a variety of community activities that haven't been filmed before. Among the highlights, they said, was being present at a funeral, at an interview during which a young man ends his mission and at a young girl's baptism.

According to Bucher, the crew captured all of these things while basically embedding in the community for six months.

I got more out of my conversation with Bucher and Henry than I can include in a single post, but here are some highlights:

• Henry said the crew did "a lot of due diligence" to see if the kinds of abuses —underage marriage, tax fraud, etc. — that make Warren Jeffs' followers famous are going on in Centennial Park. The crew didn't find any evidence of those abuses, Henry said. Families in Centennial Park once belonged to what is now the FLDS, but the two sides split over a leadership dispute in the 1980s.

• Bucher described visiting the community as being like "taking a trip back into the 1950s or 1940s" as a result of its close-knit, small town feel.

• Both producers described the Centennial Park group as an earnest and faithful community that also happens to be fairly media savvy. In fact, in Bucher's words, "they were kind of initiating an idea of doing a series."

• Bucher said she came in with a "blank slate," but now has no problem saying she supports decriminalizing polygamy. Henry expressed surprise over how fervent the debate about polygamy is in Utah and Arizona. He said that in New York, where the production company is based, that debate doesn't come up as much.

I'll include more from our conversation in future posts. And I'll finish watching the show and let you know what I think.

In the meantime, here's a past story by Brooke Adams about Centennial Park representatives meeting with Willie Jessop. And if you've watched "Polygamy USA" feel free to share your thoughts below.

— Jim Dalrymple II

Twitter: @tribunepolygamy