TV Eye

My Big Fat TV Habit

It may be on the small screen now, but it's as big and fat as ever: Nia Vardalos' <i>My Big Fat Greek Life</i>.
It may be on the small screen now, but it's as big and fat as ever: Nia Vardalos' My Big Fat Greek Life.

Your duct tape and plastic will not save you. The deluge of trash TV that has recently splashed across the small screen like a wave of sewage is enough to make any critical TV watcher go belly-up. From the Michael Jackson exposés and ABC's smarmy Are You Hot? to the "scandal" of Frenchie Davis on American Idol and to the upcoming second season premiere of The Anna Nicole Show -- pick your poison.

Reality TV is like crack cocaine. It's highly addictive. Unlike crack, reality TV is mostly free and available nearly every day of the week. And though I watch this drivel for professional reasons, I find myself wondering, why, oh why, I am doing this to myself?

So, no, I'm not going to write about Michael Jackson -- except to say it's sad to see how someone who was so beloved has gone so awry. And no, I'm not going to talk about Frenchie Davis or Joe Millionaire or Trista Rehn or any of the rest. I'm going to try to break this bad habit of reality TV watching. Not because I'm holier than thou or because The Surreal Life is ending soon and I won't have Corey Feldman around to sneer at anymore, but fundamentally to protect something I value -- my sanity. My ability to read. My ability to have an intelligent conversation. My ability to dream.

Reality television is one of the cheapest products to produce, and while these shows do require something of a writing staff (monkeys, maybe?), overall, they threaten the future of television in a big way. There's a great public service ad the Writers Guild of America uses in their print publication, "Written By." In it, the excited face of a person is featured, the text breathlessly describing a pivotal scene from a famous movie. The tag line of the ad is, "Someone wrote that." It's the WGA's way of reminding readers of the value of good writers, particularly in an industry that undervalues writers to begin with.

Which is why I find myself pleased that CBS is launching the new series My Big Fat Greek Life, a spinoff of the Nia Vardalos project that began as a one-woman show then became a surprisingly successful feature film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Not that I think adaptations of movies to the small screen are naturally a good thing. It's just that I appreciate how the vivacious (and funny) Vardalos has paid her dues. An alumna of Second City in Chicago (and Toronto), Vardalos wrote and performed in more than a dozen Second City revues and won a prestigious Jefferson Award (a Chicago-based theatre award) for best actress. Her original screenplay for Greek Wedding recently received an Oscar nomination.

It's satisfying to see someone who's worked so hard get wider recognition and the financial rewards that come with it. In the case of Greek Life, it's also a reminder that luck and timing are everything in Hollywood. The other "ethnic" series launched by CBS was the underappreciated That's Life, starring Heather Paige Kent as Lydia DeLucca, the eldest daughter in an Italian family. Like Greek Wedding's central character, Lydia had to deal with deeply rooted expectations steeped in tradition. Unfortunately, the show did not gain viewers in spite of a superb cast (Ellen Burstyn, Paul Sorvino, Debi Mazar). To CBS's credit, they did give the show a chance. However, in doing so, the show was repackaged and rescheduled till its original synergy was diffused. Finally, That's Life was canceled.

Nearly the entire cast of Greek Wedding comes to the network series, including Vardalos as Nia Portokalos, Lainie Kazan as her mother, Maria, Michael Constantine as her father, Gus, and Andrea Martin as Aunt Voula. Steven Eckholdt joins the cast as Nia's non-Greek husband, the role played by the yummy John Corbett in the film. (Corbett is off shooting a new cable series, Lucky.)

Will My Big Fat Greek Life work its magic on the small screen? Find out when it premieres Monday, Feb. 24, at 8:30pm. The series then moves to its regular time slot, Sundays at 7pm.

What Else Is On?

Real Time With Bill Maher. Former Politically Incorrect host Bill Maher finds a new job on cable, showcasing his shoot-from-the-hip political commentary. The live-format series features an opening monologue, a one-on-one satellite interview, roundtable discussions on a hot topic, and a weekly feature story by comedian Paul F. Tompkins. Real Time With Bill Maher premieres tonight (Feb. 21) at 10:30pm on HBO.

A Class Divided. This Frontline classic tells the story of a controversial social experiment performed by third-grade teacher Jane Elliott with her Riceville, Iowa, students. Elliott divided her class into two groups. The blue-eyed students were awarded special privileges, while the brown-eyed children were treated as inferior. The next day, the "browns" switched with the "blues." The result was a profound lesson on discrimination and how the experience affected the children's lives. A Class Divided airs on KLRU, Feb. 27, at 9pm and on March 6 at 2am on KLRU2.

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My Big Fat Greek Life, Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Heather Paige Kent, That's Life, Lainie Kazan, Michael Constantine, Andrea Martin, Steven Eckholdt, John Corbett, Bill Maher, Paul F. Tompkins, Real Time with Bill Maher, A Class Divided, Frontline

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