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Tuned In: CBS hopes for bliss after Greek wedding

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- The biggest little movie hit last year comes to television next month, hoping to become a big, fat Nielsen ratings smash.

CBS's "My Big Fat Greek Life," based on the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," reunites almost the entire film's cast. The only major absence will be John Corbett (Toula's husband), who's committed to the new FX series "Lucky." Steven Eckholdt ("Grapevine") will take his place, but his character will get a new name, as will the role played by star Nia Vardalos.

In the film, Vardalos played Toula, but on TV she'll be Nia Portokalos.

"It will be closer to myself than Toula was," Vardalos said yesterday. "The movie was set during my 'finding myself' period. This is going to be about my life."

Casting Eckholdt wasn't a disappointing experience, Vardalos joked.

"We had something called a 'kiss test.' I just had guys come into a room one by one, I kissed them and then we decided Steven Eckholdt was the best," she said. "Actually, we've known each other for years and have a natural chemistry and he's also married to a Greek girl."

Set after the wedding, "My Big Fat Greek Life" will portray the Portokalos family as a little more average.

"When you go into the movie theater and you're eating popcorn in the dark, you accept the reality that's given to you. That's the beauty of losing yourself in the movie," Vardalos said. "In your living room, watching on TV, surrounded by your 2003 appliances and your 2003 wife, the show has to be more accessible."

Abandoning some of the film's Old World charm sounds like it could be a fatal error and goes against Vardalos' explanation for the success of the film ("when you go for the specific, universality comes through"). Executive producer Rita Wilson, who will guest star on the series as a newly arrived immigrant relative, said the changes aren't an attempt to dumb down the movie or appeal to younger viewers, because many young people saw the film.

"We also have to be interested in what we're doing," Vardalos said. "What we're doing can't just carbon copy something. Creatively, we have to be satisfied, too."

The series was developed for CBS's fall schedule before the movie became a hit. CBS originally passed on it because "it wasn't quite ready to go," according to CBS president Leslie Moonves. The success of the movie led CBS to reconsider the series and give the production team more time to get the show up and running for a midseason launch.

There was a rumor CBS wanted to take the word "fat" out of the title, lest anyone be offended, but Vardalos and Wilson said that was never suggested.

"I like the word 'fat' for the reason that you take power away from the word when you say it," Vardalos said. She thinks the whole issue of weight in Hollywood or the modeling world is ridiculous. "Russell Crowe is fat and nobody ever talks about that. Jack Nicholson comes into a room 10 minutes before his head does and nobody ever talks about it. My thing is, women are women and men are men -- fat, skinny, who cares."

"My Big Fat Greek Life" premieres at 9:30 p.m. Feb. 24 before moving to its regular time slot, 8 p.m. Sunday on March 2.

'Angel' goes to TV heaven

CBS announced the end of "Touched By an Angel" yesterday. The series will conclude its nine-year run in May, most likely with a two-hour finale.

"It obviously struck a chord with the American public," said CBS's Moonves. "This show's imprint on prime time deserves a lot of special recognition."

Executive producer Martha Williamson said all the actors who played angels during the series' run will be invited back and the series finale will offer at least "a glimpse of heaven."

Williamson said the series brought families, disenchanted with the current state of television, back to prime time, and she would have happily continued the show for another season.

"Who wouldn't? But I think the time is right," she said. "Leslie Moonves' timing is impeccable and God's timing is perfect, so between the two of them, they got it right."

The finale will leave room for TV movies, and Williamson said she's had discussions with CBS about the possibility of making a "Touched By an Angel" movie every Christmas.

Another 'CSI'?

So far they're not calling it "JAG: CSI," but CBS announced plans for a "JAG" spin-off that Moonves described as a "naval criminal investigation series." The proposed series will star new characters who will be introduced on "JAG" later this season.

While mentioning "CSI," it's worth noting a 90-minute edition of the original will air Feb. 13 following the debut of "Survivor: Amazon."

More midseason on CBS

"Charlie Lawrence" (No premiere date): Nathan Lane stars in this laugh track heavy sitcom as a gay actor-turned-congressman who brings his theatrical background to bear on the floor of Congress. He also turns the term "majority whip" into a sex joke.

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com .

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