After the raid of a Texas polygamist sect last April, the creators of HBO's hit series "Big Love," which chronicles the lives of a fictional polygamist family, went straight to work – adapting and rewriting to make the show's third season as realistic as possible for viewers who have been captivated by a subculture previously shrouded in mystery.
"We began to write the season in advance of the raid in Texas," said Mark Olsen, the co-creator of the series. Olsen said that the raid occurred during last year's writers' strike, and so when the staff returned they got right to work.
"We had to make the series relevant," said Olsen. "We couldn't have this season fail to acknowledge the events that had transpired in these characters' lives."
"It would be like 'Sex and the City' not acknowledging that the Twin Towers were not there anymore," he said.
The Yearning for Zion Ranch, a compound run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was raided in April 2008 after state authorities received calls reportedly from juveniles claiming sexual abuse. Texas Child Protective services then removed hundreds of children from the care of their parents while they investigated claims that the sect forced underage girls to marry older men and bred young men to become sexual abusers.
The more than 430 children were returned to their parents in June, a month after first being separated from their families. The investigation is ongoing.
But Olsen and show co-creator Will Sheffer said that the Texas raid was actually a double-edged sword in terms of the show.
While it made their show more culturally relevant it also associated the series with one of the most "unsavory" news stories of the year.
"When we get this publicity in the real world we really don't know whether it's a boom or a bust," said Scheffer.
"Both Scheffer and I feel that when these events [like the raid in Texas] happen it is unsavory and tawdry and pushes a lot of buttons when you see these women with the robotic mannerisms – it's a real mixed weapon for us," said Olsen, who did agree that the news in the real world gave the show a good backdrop of relevancy.
At the time of the raid in Texas "Big Love" was on hiatus, a coincidence the creators say they were grateful for at the time.
"We got a phone call from HBO saying 'what a bummer' that we weren't on the air," said Olsen. "But our instincts were more like thank god we're not going on the air right now especially with all the extremely unpleasant imagery [coming out of the raid]."
"Viewers wouldn't want to embrace someone like Warren Jeffs on Sunday night before they go back to work," said Olsen.
Olsen and Scheffer still recognized the unique creative opportunity the raid in Texas gave them for the show, spurring them to revise the script to more closely mirror what viewers had seen unfold in real life.
"The raid gave us the opportunity to get more into what the underbelly of polygamy is and to explore the manipulation and kind of illegal and hurtful activities that are going on on the compound," said Olsen.
Olsen said that he and Scheffer incorporated the fear of an impending raid of the ranch, Juniper Creek, on "Big Love" much more in the show's upcoming third season.
"[The 'Big Love' characters] are absolutely wondering if Juniper Creek will get raided," said Olsen. "There's a kind of palpable tension."