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Silvio Horta, ‘Ugly Betty’ – Hot List 2007

Jul 15, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Title: Executive producer, “Ugly Betty”
Date of birth: Aug. 14, 1974
Place of birth: Miami
Big break: Selling his first script, “Urban Legend”
Who knew?? When Mr. Horta first moved to Los Angeles, he worked as a perfume spritzer at a department store while writing screenplays in his spare time.
Growing up in Miami, Silvio Horta was forced to watch his mom’s favorite shows: cheesy, melodramatic Spanish-language telenovelas.
After graduating from film school at New York University, he wrote genre scripts that were the furthest thing from the soaps he had watched as a kid. He wrote satirical horror film “Urban Legend,” short-lived UPN sci-fi spy thriller “Jake 2.0” and horror project “The Chronicle” for the Sci Fi Channel.
So when Mr. Horta was approached by producers Teri Weinberg and Ben Silverman in 2005 to develop and write a pilot based on the hit Colombian telenovela “Yo Soy Betty la Fea,” he was hesitant. He had recently finished another pilot for ABC that didn’t make the cut and was reluctant to take another swing. And a telenovela? He called his mom to ask what she liked about them, then took the meeting.
“I was intrigued by the title and its simple premise,” he said. “Teri and Ben and I sat down, and [it was] one of those times where we all saw the show the same way. It’s rare you meet people like that, and they’re great collaborators.”
The team dropped many of the trappings of the telenovela format, while still acknowledging its campy roots.
The original was hugely popular in Latin America, but ABC had low expectations for the U.S. version, “Ugly Betty.” Picked up by the network, it was given a Friday night slot.
Mr. Horta remembers last year’s network upfront presentation after-party, with each show’s cast encamped in its own meet-and-greet booth. Ad execs swarmed the booths for “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives,” while members of the “Betty” crew felt like, well, the ugly girl at the party.
Things began to change after Mr. Horta went to the Television Critics Association’s press tour in July, where critics who had received screener copies were buzzing about the show. ABC moved the series to Thursday nights and a roller coaster of acclaim followed.
Fast-forward to May. ABC’s upfront this year opened with a lavish Broadway music number featuring the show’s cast. “It was incredibly surreal, very bizarre,” Mr. Horta said. “To actually be in there … I never would have imagined it.”
Now Mr. Silverman, from his perch as co-chair at NBC Entertainment, is ordering a revamp of another telenovela for NBC, making “Betty” a trend-setter as well as one of the few breakout scripted hits of the past season.
For now, Mr. Horta is exclusive to “Betty” and said he is most challenged by maintaining the show’s delicate tone from week to week. At any given moment, the show can be a comedy, a drama, a mystery or a campy satire.
“It’s a comedy, but there’s a lot of heart and emotion. … It’s a lot of genres meshed together. It’s a difficult tone to maintain,” he said.
Mr. Horta took a calculated risk by ending the season on an uncharacteristically somber note, with a character shot in a convenience store robbery.
“We definitely wanted to go out with big emotion and we tried to balance out with humor, but we really wanted to get people talking and thinking and come back for a second year. It’s risky, but I’m happy with the way it turned out.”

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