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'Big Love' Premieres Amid Big Controversy

"Big Love" has finally made it to the small screen -- and not without big controversy.

The series, which debuts on HBO Sunday night after the season premiere of "The Sopranos," tells the story of Viagra-popping Mormon/Salt Lake City businessman Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton), who's also a polygamist juggling three wives: Barb (Jean Tripplehorn), Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin).

The women all live in separate houses adjacent to Bill's domicile — and deal with jealousy about each other and a slew of other issues, like their seven kids.

And Bill has to keep his marriages a secret — since polygamy is banned in Utah.

"Big Love" generated reams of headlines when it was announced last January, not only because Oscar-winner Tom Hanks is the executive producer, but because of its controversial subject matter.

More recently, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints slammed the show in a statement. The church fears that while Paxton's character isn't affiliated with mainstream Mormonism, viewers may assume he is.

"Polygamy was officially discontinued in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1890," church spokeswoman Kim Farah said. "Those groups which continue the practice in Utah and elsewhere have no association [with us] ... and most of their practitioners have never been among our members ... It will be regrettable if this program, by making polygamy the subject of entertainment, minimizes the seriousness of that problem."

An HBO spokesperson told the New York Post's Page Six gossip column last month that the show will add the following note at the end of the first episode:

"According to a joint report issued by the Utah and Arizona attorney general's offices, July 2005, 'approximately 20,000 to 40,000 or more people currently practice polygamy in the United States.' The Mormon Church officially banned the practice of polygamy in 1890."

But Utah activist Vicky Prunty, who escaped a polygamist marriage and is now executive director of the group Tapestry Against Polygamy, told Page Six she hopes "Big Love" will further expose what she calls the church's "secret shame."

"They might not practice polygamy, but they still believe in it," she said. "They only outlawed it so that Utah could get statehood. The LDS church can try to pretend it doesn't exist, but the truth will always rear its ugly head. Thanks to this show, the church leaders are up there on the hill shaking a bit, and that gives me some pleasure."

"Big Love" co-creator Mark V. Olsen told Page Six: "We want the LDS people to know that we bear them no ill will or disrespect. Everyone else we just ask to withhold judgment until they've seen the damn thing."

The New York Post's Michael Starr contributed to this report.