|Starring||The Brown family|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||14|
|No. of episodes||167 (list of episodes)|
|Production location(s)||Lehi, Utah (2010–11)|
Las Vegas, Nevada (2011–18)
|Running time||42 minutes|
|Picture format||480i (SDTV)|
|Original release||September 26, 2010 –|
Sister Wives is an American reality television series broadcast on TLC that premiered on September 26, 2010. The show documents the life of a polygamist family, which includes father Kody Brown, his four wives (Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn) and their 18 children. The family began the series living in Lehi, Utah but has since moved to Las Vegas, Nevada in 2011 and the unincorporated township of Baderville, Arizona (northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona) in mid-2018.
Brown and his four wives have stated they participated in the show to make the public more aware of polygamist families and to combat societal prejudices. Brown believes his polygamist arrangement is legal because he is married legally to only one woman (Robyn), while the other marriages (to Meri, Janelle and Christine) are "spiritual unions".
The show follows the lives of Kody Brown, his wives Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn, and their 18 children. In the first season, the show televised Kody's courting of and marriage to his fourth wife, Robyn, in 2010. Robyn was the first new wife to enter the family in 16 years.
The only legal marriages have been between Kody and Meri, until their legal divorce in September 2014, and Kody and Robyn from December 2014, in order for Kody to legally adopt Robyn's three children, Dayton, Aurora and Breanna. Kody's marriages to Janelle and Christine (for their entirety) and to Meri (after their legal divorce) are considered "spiritual unions". As of 2020, Kody has been married (formerly legally and now spiritually) to Meri for 30 years, Janelle (spiritually only) for 27 years, Christine (spiritually only) for 26 years, and Robyn (formerly spiritually and now legally) for 10 years. Kody and Meri have one daughter, Mariah. Kody and Janelle have six children: sons Logan, Hunter, Garrison and Gabriel, and daughters Madison and Savanah. Kody and Christine have six children: daughters Aspyn, Mykelti, Gwendlyn, Ysabel and Truely, and son Paedon. Robyn has three children from her first marriage (which was monogamous): son Dayton, and daughters Aurora and Breanna. Kody legally adopted them in June 2015. Kody and Robyn have two biological children: son Solomon and daughter Ariella. Kody and his wives have two grandchildren, Axel and Evangalynn (both Madison's children).
Meri, Christine and Robyn were all raised in polygamist families, but Janelle was raised in a monogamist family. Months before the marriage of Janelle and Kody, however, Janelle's mother entered into a polygamous marriage with Kody's father. Although Christine's mother left the faith, she remains supportive of the family dynamic. The Brown family belonged to the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB), a Mormon fundamentalist group. For years before the series, the family kept their polygamist lifestyle what they called a "quasi-secret".
In the autumn of 2009, independent producers Timothy Gibbons and Christopher Poole approached Figure 8 Films, a North Carolinian company, with the concept of a reality series about the Brown family. Bill Hayes, the president of Figure 8 Films, said the company agreed to the idea after meeting with the Browns and deciding their lives would make a great story. Camera crews shot footage of the family in mid-2010 to be used in the first season, ending in May with the marriage of Kody Brown and Robyn Sullivan. The crews continued to film them afterwards in case the series was picked up for a second season. Sister Wives was publicly introduced on 6 August 2010 at the Television Critics Association summer media tour in Beverly Hills, California. The series' first episode, an hour long, was broadcast on TLC on 26 September 2010 and the first season continued with six half-hour chapters until 17 October 2010.
The broadcast of Sister Wives came at a time when polygamy and multiple marriages were a prevalent topic in American pop culture. Big Love, the hit HBO series about fictional Utah polygamist Bill Henrickson, his three sister wives, and their struggle to gain acceptance in society, had already been on the air for several years. In early September 2010, the drama series Lone Star, about a con man on the verge of entering into multiple marriages, premiered on Fox but was quickly canceled after two episodes. When Sister Wives debuted, actress Katherine Heigl was in the process of developing a film about Carolyn Jessop, a woman who fled from a polygamist sect.
In October 2010, TLC announced it had commissioned a second season, which began in March 2011. A TLC interview with the Brown family was broadcast on 31 October 2010, and a one-hour program featuring the honeymoon of Kody and Robyn Brown aired on 22 November 2010.
The series led to the Brown family being investigated for possible prosecution. The family later sued the state of Utah, challenging its criminal polygamy laws. The Browns prevailed in the district court in a 2013 ruling, but a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ordered the case to be dismissed on standing grounds in 2016.
|Name||Date of birth||Date of marriage|
|Kody Winn Brown||January 17, 1969|
|Meri Caroline Brown (née Barber)||January 16, 1971||April 21, 1990|
|Janelle S. Brown (née Schriever)||May 5, 1969||January 17, 1993|
|Christine Ruth Brown (née Allred)||April 18, 1972||March 25, 1994|
|Robyn Alice Brown (née Sullivan)||October 9, 1978||May 22, 2010|
|Name||Date of birth||Mother||Notes|
|1||Logan Taylor||May 21, 1994||Janelle||Engaged to Michelle Petty|
|2||Aspyn Kristine||March 14, 1995||Christine||Married to Mitch Thompson|
|3||Mariah Lian||July 29, 1995||Meri||Engaged to Audrey Kriss|
|4||Madison Rose "Maddie"||November 3, 1995||Janelle||Married to Caleb Brush with two children|
|5||Mykelti Ann||June 9, 1996||Christine||Married to Tony Padron and expecting their first daughter|
|6||Hunter Elias||February 9, 1997||Janelle|
|7||Robert Garrison||April 16, 1998|
|8||Paedon Rex||August 7, 1998||Christine|
|9||David Dayton||January 16, 2000||Robyn||Adopted by Kody in 2015|
|10||Gabriel||October 12, 2001||Janelle|
|11||Gwendlyn Genielle||October 16, 2001||Christine|
|12||Aurora Alice||April 13, 2002||Robyn||Adopted by Kody in 2015|
|13||Ysabel Paige||June 12, 2003||Christine|
|14||Breanna Rose||April 10, 2004||Robyn||Adopted by Kody in 2015|
|15||Savanah||December 7, 2004||Janelle|
|16||Truely Grace||April 13, 2010||Christine|
|17||Solomon Kody||October 27, 2011||Robyn|
|18||Ariella Mae||January 10, 2016|
|Name||Date of birth||Spouse||Wedding Date|
|1||Caleb James Brush||January 8, 1987||Madison||June 4, 2016|
|2||Antonio "Tony" Padron||October 24, 1994||Mykelti||December 17, 2016|
|3||David Mitchell "Mitch" Thompson||1992 (age 27–28)||Aspyn||June 17, 2018|
|Name||Date of birth||Parents|
|1||Axel James Brush||May 20, 2017||Madison & Caleb|
|2||Evangalynn Kodi Brush||August 20, 2019 (age 1 year 3 months)|
|3||Baby Padron||Due March 2021||Mykelti & Tony|
Sister Wives drew national media attention after its first season and garnered generally mixed reviews from critics. Washington Post staff writer Hank Stuever called it "refreshingly frank" and found most interesting the small details of the family's everyday life, such as the food supply, division of labor, and minor arguments. Los Angeles Times television critic Mary McNamara said she was intrigued by the matriarchal nature of the polygamist family, a unit that is traditionally considered patriarchal. McNamara said the wives form the center of the family and that "their bonds appear far stronger and more vital than the casual fondness with which they all treat Kody". Salon writer Schuyler Velasco praised Sister Wives for introducing viewers to unfamiliar subject matter and called it "refreshingly modest" considering its controversial subject matter. Velasco said it has "a natural, honest presence in a genre fabled for the camera-hogging antics of Jersey Shore". Shelley Fralic of The Vancouver Sun called it fascinating and surprising and was impressed with the sensible and articulate way in which the family defended their lifestyle. When the Brown family made an October 2010 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, talk show host Oprah Winfrey said she found particularly fascinating the relationship between the sister wives.
Mark A. Perigard of the Boston Herald criticized Kody Brown for opening himself and his family up to potential criminal prosecution by appearing in the series, describing him as "a lawbreaker who is risking himself and the family he claims is so precious just to star in his own TV show". Elizabeth Tenety of The Washington Post called the series "one part domestic drudgery, another part sensationalism" and claimed it relied on a "familiar reality TV recipe" shared by other TLC series such as 19 Kids and Counting and Kate Plus 8. Religion Dispatches writer Joanna Brooks shared Tenety's perspective, criticizing the show for presenting polygamy in a manner that "is about as interesting to me as Kate Gosselin's latest makeover." In this vein Brooks criticized the show for not engaging the theology of plural marriage and for letting Kody Brown's superficial comments about the dissimilarity of Fundamentalist and mainstream Mormonism pass onto the viewers without any critical scrutiny or added nuance. Shari Puterman, television columnist with the Asbury Park Press, felt the sister wives had issues with jealousy and self-worth, and she compared Kody to a cult leader. Puterman added, "I can't speak for everyone, but I believe in the sanctity of marriage. It's sad to see that TLC's capitalizing on people who don't." Former prosecutor and television personality Nancy Grace criticized the show and said she believed Kody Brown should go to jail, but she expressed doubt he would, based on Utah's history of overlooking polygamy. Christine Seifert, an associate professor of communications at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, said the show could give viewers who are unfamiliar with the LDS church the incorrect assumption that polygamy is accepted by the mainstream church. Several commentators have taken notice of the fact that the family's religious convictions are downplayed in Sister Wives.
According to Nielsen Media Research, the 26 September 2010 one-hour premiere episode of Sister Wives drew 2.26 million viewers, a strong rating for the network. It marked the biggest series debut for TLC since Cake Boss launched in 2009 and was a stronger rating than any of the season premieres for HBO's Big Love. The remaining episodes of the first season were each half an hour long, with two broadcast together each Thursday. In the second week, the first episode drew 1.88 million viewers, while the second drew 2.13 million. The third week drew similar results, with 1.89 million viewers watching the first episode and 2.05 million watching the second. Sister Wives drew its strongest ratings during the fourth and final week of the first season, with 2.67 million viewers for the first episode and 2.74 million for the season finale. As a result of the 2.7 million average viewership for the two episodes, TLC ranked first among all ad-support cable channels in the 18–49 and 25–54 age groups. The series drew double- and triple-digit ratings gains in all key demographics and ranked second in ad-supported cable network shows during its time period.
Kody Brown, along with his wives, filed a legal case in the United States federal courts challenging the State of Utah's criminal polygamy law. The Browns prevailed in the district court in a 2013 ruling, but a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ordered the case to be dismissed on standing grounds in 2016. The Tenth Circuit concluded that, because local Utah prosecutors had a policy of not pursuing most polygamy cases in the absence of additional associated crimes (e.g. welfare fraud or marriage of underage persons), the Browns had no credible fear of future prosecution and thus lacked standing.
- Tenety, Elizabeth (August 10, 2011), "Warren Jeffs, 'Sister Wives,' and American polygamy", Washington Post (Blog), archived from the original on August 21, 2011
- Polygamy in North America
- My Five Wives, another reality TV series on TLC about a polygamist family
- Escaping Polygamy, another reality TV series on A&E about a polygamist family
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