A new controversial best-selling book about Martha Stewart is being turned into a potential TV movie for NBC.

Martha Inc., the unauthorized biography of the self-made, do-it-yourself billionaire by New York Post business columnist Christopher Byron, has been optioned by a Hollywood producer and could hit NBC as soon as the 2003-2004 TV season. 

"It's a classic rags-to-riches story of one of the most famous icons of our generation," NBC executive vice president for longform/alternative Jeff Gaspin told Daily Variety

"You've got this woman on TV telling viewers how to turn doilies into wedding gowns who then walks into a corporate boardroom and kicks ass. With the right tone, it could be a lot of fun," he said. 

If NBC goes ahead with the project, Gaspin said, the movie will probably have a softer edge than Byron's book. "I hope we can have a more tongue-in-cheek approach," he said. 

"Whatever they're going to do [with the film] I'm sure it's going to be fine," Byron said yesterday. "If they ask me my opinions, I'll give 'em to them." 

Stewart, who lives about 15 minutes from Byron's Westport, Conn. home, initially agreed to help the writer with the book but later yanked her support and tried unsuccessfully through legal avenues to have the project scrapped. 

Stewart also rejected several of Byron's offers to meet shortly before the book was published — and then snubbed an invite to the book's party when it was published last month. 

In a recent e-mail to Bryron, Stewart wrote: "I read the second half of your book and I think you could have tried a lot harder, it's pretty sad." 

"I went to a lot of trouble to be fair and I'm sure the portrait in this is complete, three-dimensional and accurate," Byron said. "She's got the largest cult following on earth. There are people who think she really walks on water. I don't think the book is all that critical. 

"There are some parts that I wouldn't have written about if it were me, but I didn't do those things  she did them. There are some parts of this book that are very flattering of her. It's her life, not a PR job," he said. 

Stewart's talk show Martha Stewart Living is distributed by CBS sibling King World and airs daily on CBS. Stewart is also a regular contributor to CBS' The Early Show, publishes her own magazine and oversees a line of products sold in retailers like Kmart and Sears.

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