LOS ANGELES - The Duggars have 19 children and counting. Kate Gosselin has eight kids. Kody Brown has four - wives, that is.
TLC, the network responsible for exposes of super-large families such as "Kate Plus 8" and "19 Kids and Counting," is turning its reality TV attention to another kind of domestic abundance: polygamy. "Sister Wives," premiering Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT, follows a fundamentalist Mormon family composed of one daddy, three mommies and 13 children living under one roof.
"It just felt like our story needed to be told," said Brown, the affable patriarch who works in advertising and lives with his family in Lehi, Utah. "There's a lot of stereotypes out there that are actually perpetuated by the press. I wanted to make sure the world understood that we're polygamists, but we're not the polygamists that you think you know."
The series follows Brown, 41, as he brings fourth "sister wife" Robyn, 31, and her three children from a previous marriage into the brood. (He is only legally married to first wife Meri, 39.) Brown and the wives, who said they are not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, wanted to give a public face to polygamy.
"We come from a closed society," said third wife Christine, 37. "That was one of the reasons we wanted to do the show, to open up our society, just so people can see what it's like. Because of that, I think that there is a lot of fear that comes from doing things like this. We just want to show our family. We don't even want to go into our church life."
Instead of examining the religion that inspires the Browns' lifestyle, "Sister Wives" focuses on their mostly mundane household as Robyn enters the mix. There's no "Big Love"-style salaciousness here. The Browns are far less chaotic than the fictional Henricksons from HBO's polygamy drama, and parts of their lives are off limits to reality TV.
"There's boundaries that we've established," said Brown. "Some of those would be what's not family oriented. I try to avoid talking about politics or about religion. I talk about my faith because it's mine, but my religion belongs to an entire society of people. I don't really want to talk about religion or politics or the bedroom."
Bigamy is illegal in both Utah and Arizona, where most known Intermountain West polygamous sects live. Utah County attorney Jeff Buhman declined to comment on if his office was looking into the Brown family. Buhman said his office usually only investigates crimes "related to public corruption, police involved shootings or deaths, or white collar crime."
Polygamy is a legacy of the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members brought the practice to Utah in 1847. The mainstream Mormon church abandoned polygamy more than a century ago in 1890 in preparation for Utah's statehood and now excommunicates members found engaged in the practice, though other communities still practice polygamy.
A survey conducted by the polygamy advocacy group Principle Voices last year identified that roughly 38,000 people believe in or practice polygamy across the Intermountain West. Most are not members of any organized church, but all consider themselves fundamentalist Mormons and believe the practice will bring exaltation in the next life.