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HBO’s ‘Big Love’ Packs in the Action

April 23, 2009 3:33 PM

If you’ve ever wondered how much story can fit into a one-hour TV drama, “Big Love” has the answer: A lot.


'BIG' STORIES Co-creator and executive producer Mark V. Olsen, left, and Bill Paxton.

The last season of HBO’s polygamist drama about Bill Henrickson and his three wives featured a teenage pregnancy that became a miscarriage, blackmail, kidnapping, identity theft, multiple deaths, a cancer scare, confessions of love, a long-lost daughter and a road trip. And that’s just the half of it.

“They put me through everything you can think of,” Bill Paxton said at Wednesday’s PaleyFest panel for the show at Hollywood’s Arclight Cinerama Dome. “I have a twitch ever since the show wrapped. It was exhausting.”

“Big Love’s” intricate web of interweaving, nuanced storylines also took a toll on the show’s creators, Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer.

“The real headache began in the last two episodes,” when they were figuring out how to wrap up all the storylines, Mr. Olsen said.

The creators admitted they had used up their original six-year agenda for the show by the end of season three. Jeanne Tripplehorn, who plays first wife Barb, even worried that the show might lose viewers due to its dense and complicated storylines.

“We’ve never hired an actor we didn’t love,” the creators added, explaining their need to create more story.

But just because “Big Love” has exhausted its original plan doesn’t mean the show is over. It simply has expanded beyond Mr. Olsen’s and Mr. Scheffer’s original vision into something bigger and deeper.

The writers have been hard at work for a month breaking stories for season four, which is expected to begin production in August. Their overarching theme for the next season will be exploring the subjugation of women in a deeper way, which led Ms. Tripplehorn to wonder how much deeper the show could explore the subject.

The new season will find Harry Dean Stanton’s Roman Grant “absolutely dead,” Mr. Scheffer declared.

“This isn’t one of those vampire shows,” Mr. Olsen added when the possibility of Roman returning was tossed out.

While fans of the show may be having a hard time letting go of the dastardly but captivating Roman, no one seems to be having more trouble than Mr. Stanton himself, who brought up the fact that his character is dead at regular intervals during the panel.

Other tidbits from the panel:

—Mr. Scheffer and Mr. Olsen explained daughter Tancy’s absence during parts of the season by coming up with an elaborate off-screen storyline involving soccer camp and being shipped off to grandma Nancy’s house.

—Ms. Tripplehorn had two questions for the creators at the beginning of the season: “Am I going to be playing cancer all year? And is Branca [Ana] really coming into the family?”

—“I hope there’s going to be more wives,” Mr. Paxton said. Ms. Tripplehorn called Ana, the waitress whom Bill made his fourth wife and divorced in the same episode, “our Yoko.” The creators had to make it a quickie marriage and divorce because she was not going to be coming along with family in the following road trip episode.

—The cast really did road-trip together for the family’s pilgrimage episode, with Ms. Tripplehorn and Chloë Sevigny sharing a car, while Amanda Seyfried, Ginnifer Goodwin and their cats rode in another car.

—Nicki’s ex-husband, J.J., played by the ubiquitous Zeljko Ivanek, will be back next season. Another tease: Margene may become the queen of QVC next season.

—Ms. Tripplehorn loves the scenes of women and power tools on the show.

—The writing staff currently has no Mormon writers, which surprised audience members who’d been raised Mormon and praised the show’s accuracy. “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who was raised Mormon, was a writer on the first two seasons.

—HBO executive Carolyn Strauss suggested the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” for the show’s opening credits. Another executive threw out ice skating, and thus was born the show’s opening images of Bill crossing the celestial veil to meet his wives and live together on their own planet.

—Vlada Gelman


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