Photo courtesy of HBO

The Big Love Phenomenon

Bill Hendrickson and his family—wives Barb, Nicki and Margene and their seven children-introduced themselves via HBO in the spring of 2006 and brought their version of homespun family values into houses across the nation. Americans met a suit-clad Bill in the pilot episode as he stepped out of his SUV, juggled work papers and a Utahn's standard jumbo soda, walked into his suburban home and greeted each wife with a kiss. The whole family sat down at the dinner table in the backyard joining the wives' three houses and said a prayer thanking God for their unique relationship with each other and their faith.

"Polygamy was kind of like family and marriage on steroids," says Mark V. Olsen, who created Big Love with longtime writing partner and husband Will Scheffer. "What this marriage-times-three did was highlight ways family is an important institution. [The Hendricksons] were not just a polygamist family, but the very best of what we see in the Mormon community as well." Like much of the country, Olsen didn't initially think about polygamy beyond the 19th century references or the FLDS community straddling Utah and Arizona's border. "[My] perception of the lifestyle was what I think everyone else's was: ick," he recalls.

When Olsen and Scheffer began their research, a different story began to emerge. "[Many of] the families around Salt Lake City are deeply intelligent people who take what they are doing very seriously. There's a decency, civility and honesty, but what impressed me the most is that they were normal," says Olsen.

Next>>>Part 3 Living Outside the Law & Challenging Constitutionality

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