Sept. 28, 2006 -- If "The Devil Wears Prada" left you shaking (with laughter) in your Jimmy Choos, there's no telling what "Ugly Betty" might do to your couture.
The sitcom, which premieres tonight on ABC, bears some resemblance to the hit summer movie starring Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep, but, as executive producer Salma Hayek points out, it's hardly derivative. It's based on a Latin American telenovela -- and you can expect U.S. networks to import a lot more shows, as they're proving to travel well.
"The original was a phenomenon in Columbia," says Hayek, "and then it became an incredible success in all of the Latin countries, and then in many places around the world."
Earlier this month, some 7.34 million German TV viewers tuned in to "That's Life," the local dramatic version of "Ugly Betty," giving the series a 25.9 percent share of the market, and beating out a broadcast of the European championship football match between Germany and Ireland.
Networks Lather Up With Latin Soaps
CBS is currently developing at least four projects based on telenovelas. At NBC, Galan Entertainment has inked deals to create English-language versions of novelas produced by NBC's Spanish-language network, Telemundo.
Galan is also producing the first mini-telenovela for cell-phone users, available through Cingular next month.
While telenovelas are often defined simply as soap operas, the Latin versions tend to offer more than the typical cliffhanger endings that keep viewers coming back for more. Instead, they try to package each episode as a self-contained story, with endings that range from tragic to happily ever after.
In "Ugly Betty," 22-year-old America Ferrera, best known for "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," stars as a young woman who dresses more for comfort than style. But all that changes when she lands a job at a fashion magazine.
Hayek, who is 40, says that she feels maternal when it comes to Ferrera. And while Ferrera is quite beautiful in real life, Hayek thinks she isn't even so bad when the young actress steps into character with braces, dowdy clothing and a regrettable hair style.
"I think the title is meant to be sarcastic," says Hayek. "I don't think Betty is really ugly."
For many beautiful actresses, getting ugly has often been a brilliant career move. Just look what it did for Charlize Theron in "Monster." But Ferrera is just pleased that she doesn't experience the same pressure her character feels.
"It's an honor to take on this role," Ferrera says, "And it's fun as an actress not to have to worry about the hair and makeup and the 'So, I look good in this.'"
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