October 6, 2006

First Person:
Ugly Betty is cute

By Al Carlos Hernandez

Most American Latinos were proud to know ABC’s Ugly Betty, Salma Hayek’s adaptation of the popular Novella that debuted last week, and were very impressed at the big budget major network effort. ABC, based on the success of George Lopez is amiable to bringing quality Latino flavored programming to its prime time line-up, and for the first time for Latinos, being in a line up is a good thing.

Jerry Rannow in his book Writing Television comedy makes a salient point, “The basic code of law in Hollywood is that money equals success, and success is all that matters,” Ugly B., is a big budget production that rests on the shoulders of actor America Ferrara. She wears it well, holding it down and holding her own in Midtown Manhattan “the cut throat Fashion that normal people can’t wear” capital of the world.

They say that the show quotes liberally from “The Devil Wears Prada,” but most likely Prada bit from the Tele Novella genre which has set the global standard for Glam - Dramady. They use a time tested good girl verses bad girl dialectic, ugly meaning bad, cute meaning good. Did I mention they also say in Hollywood that “politics is show business for ugly people?”

In its premiere America plays the Ugly ducking, Betty Suarez, thick eye-browed horn-rimmed, pretty and plumpsters who helps win back a huge account from an Italian Diva, Donatella Versace-type using an ad campaign close to her heart, a mother and daughter theme. La Fea B had lost her mother a short time ago and the Ad campaign shows poignant pictures of a Latina Mama during better black and white times with her M’ija. She is gracious in saving her ingrate boss’s job, telling the client it was his idea forcing me to become pre-diabetic for a few minutes.

La Betty lives with her sister Ana Ortiz and dad, a widower. Her reflection Homie is another nerd outcast from work. Gifted Actor Tony Planta is again cast as a widowed dad. H undreds will remember him as the widowed dad on Resurrection Blvd., who fell in love with the much younger girl at the pan dulce shop, which is an honest mistake. Her role in the famila is to support Pops by interceding for him to score medicine from the red tapped wound world, always, getting put on hold or dissed over the phone because she represents a broke Latino family.

La Feita is hired by the owner of the company to be his son’s assistant because his son Daniel the new editor-in chief, who is being groomed to take the fathers’ place, is a notorious womanizer. They hire Betty because she has a Cara de Caballo, so he wouldn’t get tempted to pursue her, unless he was an aspiring jockey. The caveat is Daniel can’t fire Betty so he concocts a plan to humiliate her into quitting, which as a point of reference is impossible to do to a person in local Spanish Television or Radio.

In a brutal scene they make her dress up in gay couture fashion, red hot pants, and stand in as a model while they are checking the lighting. Danny, the nepotistic dork starts to melt down when he sees Brave Betty coming out willing to risk humiliation to keep her job and keep her dream as a magazine designer alive. Betty Ugly’s up the place while the heroin chic, model posed like lipsticked stiffs, start to laugh at her. Soon everyone is laughing, then, Daniel stops the session finally realizing what jerk bag loser he is.

This scene must be near and dear to the hearts of Latino artists, people who try to get a break in mainstream media. Once, when Salma Hayek came to LA looking for her first crossover break, she called up the William Morris Agency and asked in accented English to talk to Mr. Morris. They answered that William Morris is dead and hung up the phone. There is another instance of a young LA Chicano screenwriter who finally got a pitch session with a big time Hollywood Executive who told him that his housekeeper is from El Salvador, and if he knows her.

La Betty America is believable and endearing. The rest of the cast and storyline goes from the ridiculous to the sublime, comedy to caricature pillared by the nemesis Vieja Mala, Vanessa Williams who is conspiring to take the magazine over.

Executive Producer Selma Hayek may be able to set the bar and maintain the tenuous marriage or at least an affair between mainstream network TV and the humongous Latino audience on this programming effort.

Discover America again, watch Ugly Betty on ABC.

(Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.)

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