The fashion industry, they say, is a dog-eat-dog kind of place. And on this sunny Friday afternoon, America Ferrera is in blissful agreement.
A litter of 8-week-old Samoyed puppies has invaded the Queens set of ABC's "Ugly Betty," and no one's more ecstatic than the show's star.
Spotting one of the white furballs, Ferrera leaps off her chair, ditches her iced coffee and her BlackBerry, and rushes to pick up the pup she had staked out earlier and dubbed Buddha. Ferrera promptly asks a bystander to use her phone to snap her holding the dog, so she can send the picture to her boyfriend, Ryan Piers Williams.
"He's so sweet," she coos, snuggling against the dog as he nuzzles her face. "You did a good job," she praises, of the pup's role in a cover shoot for the fictional Mode magazine.
Cuddly canines aside, "Ugly Betty's" stars hope the show has more bite in its third season, which premieres Thursday (8 p.m. ET/PT). The show has moved to the East Coast, shooting on location in Manhattan and in its Queens-based studio, ending up where it should have been all along, says executive producer Silvio Horta.
"We shot the pilot here, and I always wanted to shoot the show in New York, but it was too expensive," he says. A tax rebate lowered the costs, and suddenly New York seemed not just doable, but a must-do.
"We felt like it was the best thing for the show," he says. "There's a reality to shooting here that you don't get in L.A. It seems to ground the show. It's big and zany, and being out in the city gives it a level of realness."
The move has given the series, which went from 11.3 million viewers during its inaugural season to 9.3 million last season, some much-needed juice, say those involved. Being in Gotham, Ferrera says, has given "Betty" "an incredible boost in energy and production values. It opens the show up. This week, we shot in Coney Island and we shot at the heliport in South Street Seaport. We shot in Queens and Brooklyn. The skyline and the energy — you can't think of a more beautiful city to photograph."
Ferrera's Betty Suarez still works at Mode, but now harridan Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa L. Williams) is in charge. Betty is more mature dealing with various romantic and family issues, but still as quirkily attired as ever, thanks to the stylings of costumer Patricia Field. At work, there's a power struggle between Wilhelmina and the former editor, Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), who has been relegated to running a lad mag. Receptionist Amanda (Becki Newton) and Wilhelmina's assistant, Marc (Michael Urie), are still the resident gossips and snoops.
But it's Manhattan that has become "Ugly Betty's" most standout star.
"The city is a character on 'Ugly Betty,' and L.A. is like the understudy," says Urie. "Downtown L.A. doesn't look like anything. And green screen is limited. The Paramount back lot looks fake, like a sitcom. We've been working at a disadvantage. Artistically, I think the show is going to be so much better."
His sentiment is echoed by his colleagues, who all say they responded positively when ABC informed them the show was being transferred.
"They just kind of told me, 'You need to be there in two months.' It happened really fast. They told us in our last episode in our last season," says Ferrera, who lives downtown with her boyfriend and their two dogs. "We made it happen."