US version of 'Vicar of Dibley' to star Kirstie Alley

The Hollywood star Kirstie Alley, best known for her role in the bar-room sitcom Cheers, looks set to follow in the footsteps of Dawn French's jolly vicar.

Alley, a Scientologist, is being lined up to take the lead role in an American version of the BBC comedyThe Vicar of Dibley, according to the entertainment industry magazine Variety.

The Fox television network is reported to be making a pilot called The Minister of Divine, co-produced by Richard Curtis, Dibley's creator. If the pilot goes down well, a full series will follow.

The plot premise will be shifted slightly so that Alley, 56, is cast as a preacher returning to the small town where she grew up as a rebel. In the British version, Dawn French is a newcomer as vicar in an Oxfordshire village.

Ricky Gervais's BBC2 sitcom The Office was successfully remade two years ago as The Office: An American Workplace, while Footballers' Wives and the time-travelling police drama Life on Mars are also being adapted for a US audience.

When it began in 1994, The Vicar of Dibley was criticised for being too conventional, especially when compared with Curtis'sBlackadder, and for relying on rural stereotypes, but the sitcom turned into a major ratings success. After three series the final two episodes were shown over Christmas and New Year, topping the festive period ratings for the BBC.

In the finale French's character married a newcomer to the village, bringing the programme to a natural close. But the hearts of grieving fans were lifted when it was disclosed that a further 10-minute episode is being filmed as part of this year's BBC Comic Relief night next month. Curtis, who also wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, has been closely involved in Comic Relief since its inception.

Since the end ofCheers in 1993, Alley, who won an Emmy for her role in the comedy, has starred in the sitcoms Veronica's Closet and Fat Actress, which documented her battle with the bulge. She also won an Emmy for her role in the TV drama David's Mother.

Top talent is being employed on the British programmes currently being remade for a US audience Life on Mars, the police drama set in Manchester in the Seventies, is being adapted for US television by David E Kelley, the creator of Ally McBeal. The American version ofFootballers' Wives - renamed Football Wives - is directed by Bryan Singer, director of the X-Men films, who is also executive producer.

Tiger Aspect, the production company behind The Vicar of Dibley, confirmed that the production was in discussion, but said it had no further comment.

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