By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated February 26, 2003 06:03 PM

Despite reports that sitcoms are dead, having been killed off by the popularity of reality shows, CBS’s Monday night premiere of “My Big Fat Greek Life” pulled in an impressive 22.9 million viewers — even topping the 22.2 million who watched its lead-in, the top-rated “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

And it outshone its reality rival on FOX, “Joe Millionaire: The Aftermath,” a tepid rehash and update with Evan Marriott and Zora Andrich. That one snagged 19.5 million viewers, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings.

“Greek Life,” starring Nia Vardalos, 40, is based on last year’s smash romantic comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” about a Greek-American bachelorette and her overbearing family. Vardalos wrote and starred in the movie, and she does the same on the sitcom, as well as executive produces the show.

(One change: She was called Toula in the movie. On the show, she’s Nia. But the movie’s cast comes to the small screen basically intact, save for the movie’s fiancé, John Corbett, now replaced by TV groom Steven Eckholdt.)

Critics, however, were less supportive of “Greek Life” than viewers. Tom Shales of The Washington Post found it shamelessly similar to “Everybody Loves Raymond,” just not as good.

He also noted: “One might think that ethnic comedies would have faded in popularity as audiences grew more sophisticated. But then there’s no particular evidence that audiences HAVE grown more sophisticated.”

The New York Times was slightly more encouraging. Critic Alessandra Stanley wrote, “Sitcoms are a dangerous species … ‘My Big Fat Greek Life’ deserves a chance to get over its opening-episode jitters and find its voice.”