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'Greek' Tragedy

Why ''My Big Fat Greek'' didn't translate to TV -- And how it was that Hollywood's Grecian earner turn into TV's feta-complete

Nia Vardalos | PRO 'LIFE' ''Greek Wedding'' went over well, but its TV counterpart didn't have the same reaction from viewers
Image credit: Nia Vardalos: Steve Granitz/WireImage.com
PRO 'LIFE' ''Greek Wedding'' went over well, but its TV counterpart didn't have the same reaction from viewers

The moment the season finale of ''My Big Fat Greek Life'' wrapped in March, star and coexecutive producer Nia Vardalos marched off the set and begged a CBS honcho to cancel her comedy. That was about the only thing she and the network ever agreed on. After months of wrangling over the direction of the series -- which had the makings of a hit until the ratings dropped faster than an olive from a tree -- CBS officially axed the spin-off of ''My Big Fat Greek Wedding'' on May 14, after only seven episodes.

''So many people had so many different visions. They were not able to have a unified direction,'' says Christina Papadopoulos, a spokeswoman for Vardalos (who wouldn't comment). Small wonder, considering that the actress didn't really want to do the show.

In 2001, before Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks agreed to bring Vardalos' 1997 stage show to the big screen, CBS won a bidding war and committed seven figures to shoot a pilot based on her story (ugly duckling bags WASPy vegetarian). But when the film earned $241 million and she was on her way to an Oscar nomination, Vardalos told CBS she didn't want to play daddy's little Greek girl anymore. ''She's 40. She's been doing this story for years,'' argues her friend Jeff Rosenthal, a writer on the show. ''She wanted to move forward, not go back in time.''

CBS met her halfway: She got a post-honeymoon plot and the net got most of the movie's cast -- who weren't part of the original deal. But that wasn't enough to keep viewers interested. ''Life'' dropped a whopping 54 percent after its blockbuster Feb. 24 debut. ''The show had no emotional resonance, no real stakes,'' says a key Life source. ''She didn't have the expertise to make it work.'' She also couldn't blend her new stardom with the needs of an ensemble. Adds the source, ''Nia wanted most of the jokes for herself...to be a David Spade. But you can't give one-liners to a person who's not a comedic actress.'' Costar Andrea Martin could pull it off -- almost too well. At the final taping, a source says Vardalos threatened to walk out when Martin got the most laughs. ''Andrea was too big,'' says the source. ''But nothing else was funny.''

''It wasn't easy,'' says costar Louis Mandylor in Vardalos' defense. ''She had to act, produce, and do publicity.'' Adds her rep: ''The allegations about her being difficult and fighting with people on the set are ridiculous.''

And possibly irrelevant. Her agents say ''Life'''s failure hasn't slowed interest in Nia Vardalos, movie star. She's now filming ''Connie and Carla'' for Universal. ''The movie industry will allow a few more failures,'' says casting director Billy Hopkins (''Monster's Ball''). ''That's the way Hollywood judges you.''

Originally posted May 30, 2003 Published in issue #712 May 30, 2003 Order article reprints