On Sunday, March 5, E! will pause from its reality-driven slate to step out with its second-ever scripted series, The Arrangement. A dark, Hollywood twist on a Cinderella love story, the 10-part drama follows a young actress named Megan (Christine Evangelista) who's offered a $10 million contract to marry industry bigwig Kyle West (Josh Henderson). His ties to a spirituality center at the center of the show have created quite the stir off-screen, as people were quick to draw comparisons to Tom Cruise and his commitment to Scientology. So fans are undoubtedly wondering: Is the Institute of the Higher Mind real? (Bustle reached out to the Church of Scientology and Cruise's representative for comment on the comparison claims and has not yet received a response.)
Turns out, the organization is very much rooted in fiction, and E! insists Kyle's character isn't based on anyone IRL. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a spokesperson for the network said, "The character of Kyle West is not at all inspired by anyone in particular. Kyle is a young, rising star who was recently left at the altar by his actress ex-girlfriend."
The team behind the series has been just as firm. "We really had no interest in capturing the headlines and doing a ripped-from-the-headlines type of show or storytelling in that way," executive producer Jonathan Abrahams told Entertainment Tonight in January. "It was really about how can we put people into the situation that's very unusual and sometimes hard to believe, and make it believable."
And at the Television Critics' Association tour in January, Abrahams denied that the series was based on Cruise or Scientology multiple times, and said that if anything, he was inspired by the prevalence of self-help organizations in Hollywood:
"There were a lot of inspirations for me, I've had experiences second- and third-hand in self-help organizations. There are many of them. ... Hollywood is such an aspirational town. These self-help organizations are about aspiring to a higher way of living -- having more success in your profession and having more success in your relationships. … There's a promise to it. Come join our project and spend X amount of dollars for a weekend intensive and we can change your life."
Still, that hasn't stopped viewers from pointing out perceived similarities to Cruise. When The Arrangement was first announced, Vanity Fair called its premise "suspiciously similar" to their 2012 investigation, in which sources alleged that David Miscavige, the chief of the Church of Scientology International, had set up an “elaborate auditioning process” to find Tom Cruise a spouse. Spokespeople for Scientology denied that there was any such process, and denied that Miscavige is involved in Cruise's personal life in any way.
Other sites have pointed out more superficial commonalities. For example, The Hollywood Reporter noted that towards the end of the Arrangement pilot, Kyle offers to take Megan, who is at the time best known for her TV work, on a date to Italy, which is where Cruise and ex-wife (and Dawson's Creek star) Katie Holmes were first photographed.
While Cruise and Kyle are both male action movie stars closely linked to a controversial spiritual center, the key difference between the Church of Scientology and the Institute of the Higher Mind (besides, you know, that one isn't real) is that the latter isn't religious. "Our show has nothing to do with religion," Michael Vartan, who plays Higher Mind leader Terrence Anderson, told ET. "I see how some people could see certain parallels that might seem like certain stories we've heard. I've never personally heard of any, but I understand that contract marriages have been going on since the '30s and the '40s."
So despite all of the commotion surrounding the series' premise, The Arrangement's Institute of the Higher Mind is neither real nor based on the Church of Scientology and Cruise's role within it. But that doesn't mean it won't make for some fascinating television, or at the very least, a new guilty pleasure.