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by Anil Kunnel & Melissa Mejia, staff writers

Thick glasses, colorful braces, and messy hair have become the characteristics of the lead character in Ugly Betty, a new ABC-TV show. The character, Betty, is unique for an American show, but TV in other countries offers Betty look-alikes named Lisa, Lotte, or Jassi. Ugly Betty is only one in a series of shows around the world based on the Colombian soap opera, Yo soy Betty, la fea, (I am Betty, the Ugly). Columbia’s RCN television network premiered Yo soy Betty, la fea in 1999 and it ran until 2001. The show was centered on an intelligent, young Betty who was an economist. Unable to find a job in her field, she took a job as a secretary for a fashion designer. She faced the scorn of her prettier workmates and fell in love with her boss. The show was an immediate favorite among the people of Columbia. According to ZonaLatina.com, the show was popular because in a country dominated by drug cartels and corrupt government, Betty was a symbol of “uncorrupted innocence.” Betty, la fea wasn’t centered on the typically attractive lead actress but on the “ugly duckling”. The show was closer to reality to the viewers than the popular rags-to-riches storyline of most Spanish telenovelas. Internationally, television networks are producing their own versions of Betty, la fea: Verliebt in Berlin (Germany), Jassi Jassi Koi Nahin (India), Esti Ha’mechoeret (Israel), La Fea Mas Bea (Mexico), and Lotte (Netherlands), to name a few. Each show differs slightly; however, the concept of a nerdy woman as the main character remains. One reason for the show’s worldwide success is that the different versions have introduced the concept of telenovelas to foreign audiences. While soap operas can go on forever and always introduce new characters and storylines, a telenovela has one only one central story, usually the same cast, and an ending. The production standard is slightly better than on soaps, the storylines are not as far-fetched. The producers know most parts of the plot before they start shooting. Combined with a universal story about an ugly duckling who becomes a beautiful swan, the new concept became a world wide success. Typically the lead female roles are played by well-known–and beautiful–actresses, who at the beginning of the show are made ugly and sometimes wear a bodysuit that makes them chubby. In Germany, Verliebt in Berlin, which can be translated into both In Love With or In Berlin, started in 2005 and celebrated its finale in 2006. The story of Lisa Plentzke, who takes a job in a fashion company in Berlin and falls in love with the junior chairman, followed exactly the same plot as its predecessor, while the supporting characters and subplots varied. The show was a huge success. It even won the German TV award for best daily TV show, and continues now as a new novel with a new story and some of the old supporting roles. “I started watching just to see how bad it was, but I was surprised,” said Carina Koch, an HPU student from Germany. “The show got me hooked, and I watched it regularly until I came here.” Koch, who missed the finale of the show, watched a few episodes of the American version. She got the impression that the characters here are much more crazy and comical.

Ugly Betty premiered in fall 2006 on ABC. Mexican actress Salma Hayek and her production company, Ventanarosa, brought the series to American television screens. The show is shown weekly as opposed to daily, due to American soap opera standards of long ongoing storylines. Betty Suarez, the lead character, is a young Latin woman working as an assistant to a fashion magazine editor. She is an outcast among her co-workers since most of them are more stylish and attractive. Although she has little interest in being fashionable, she remains loyal to her boss and the organization. The show is expected to stay similar to Betty la Fea; however, it has close similarities to David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Betty also addresses issues of immigration because Betty’s father came to the United States illegally. Actress America Ferrara, who debuted in Real Women Have Curves (2002), could be the new role model for Hispanic girls and women. The show has good ratings, and as any successful show, it might stay on TV for a long time. Let’s hope that the producers know how to end Betty’s story.




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