April 1, 2001
Betty La Fea, broadcast nationwide Nov 2000–May 2001.
It began in Colombia, near the headwaters of the Orinoco, and it flowed, like the great river, first through Venezuela and then into the Caribbean, spreading far and wide. Soon, all of Latin America was immersed in its influence. Moving inexorably forward, the trickle had become a torrent. And now we too in the North have become fascinated, engulfed in the ever-growing stream. In May, a large outcry, one as had never before been heard, went up in the streets of Latin America and in homes across the U.S. as its makers threatened, yes, and even promised to cut off the stream at the source. I am speaking, of course, of Betty La Fea—arguably the most successful Colombian telenovela ever.
The half-hour TV show, whose title literally means "Betty the ugly one," was shown every weeknight, and was so popular that in cities with large Latino populations like Miami and Los Angeles, its Nielsen ratings have exceeded those of Friends. Telenovelas, unlike their American soap opera counterparts, have a scheduled end—few last longer than half a year. This means they also have things like closure, resolution, and an overarching plot. A typical telenovela might feature two incredibly attractive protagonists who, relatively early in the program, discover their love for each other, only to be thwarted by family situations and an evil incarnate-style antagonist (who sometimes ends up being a long-lost half-sibling of one of the heroes). Circumstances appear dire. Then things get worse! The heroine dies! But do not worry; in three episodes she will be back, having miraculously survived the train wreck unscathed (although now played by a totally different actress). The villain will have none ...