Reaching Latinos: A Novela Approach to Mainstream TV

Sep 25, 2006  •  Post A Comment

TelevisionWeek correspondent Wayne Karrfalt caught up last week with “Ugly Betty” showrunner Silvio Horta, a Cuban American who grew up in Miami, to discuss how he adapted the show to mainstream audiences. Here is a portion of their conversation:

TelevisionWeek: Did you watch novelas growing up?

Silvio Horta: I was kind of forced to. There was only one TV in the house and there was an endless rotation. It was kind of funny; I remember in school we all sort of hated them, but we were addicted to them at the same time.

TVWeek: Do you watch any of the cable networks like mun2 or S?TV that target bicultural Hispanics?

Mr. Horta: To tell you the truth, I’ve never heard of them.

TVWeek: How faithful is “Ugly Betty” to the original, “Yo Soy Betty la Fea”?

Mr. Horta: I kind of used the original as a springboard for something else. It’s not meant to be a literal translation. What remains is the basic story of an ugly duckling working in a hostile fashion environment.

TVWeek: Does it feel like a novela or is more like a “Desperate Housewives”?

Mr. Horta: It feels like a big one-hour network show, with lots of heart, humor and serialized soapy elements. “Desperate Housewives” is not a bad analogy.

TVWeek: How did you relate to the main character?

Mr. Horta: I tried to speak to my own experience growing up. Betty is first-generation Latino American, like myself, trying to straddle two new worlds.

TVWeek: Do you think general audiences will find her an endearing character?

Mr. Horta: I hope so. I think there’s a bit of Betty in all of us. It doesn’t matter what you look like or how much money you have; everyone at some point in their life feels like they’re an outsider.

TVWeek: What did Salma Hayek, who started out acting in novelas, bring to the table?

Mr. Horta: She brought her extensive knowledge of the format, and fought very passionately for many things that ended up on the screen. For instance, she believed in the star, America Ferrera [“Real Women Have Curves”], from the beginning. She wanted to preserve this idea of a Latin family and not make the main character a white girl.

TVWeek: Do you think it has a good chance of crossing over to appeal to mainstream audiences?

Mr. Horta: I think it’s a universal story. It has worked across the board in every country they’ve done it in. I hope it catches on here.