Yo Soy Betty, La Fea
The very first iteration of what would come to be known as Ugly Betty in the U.S. began with Colombian telenovela Yo Soy Betty, La Fea (roughly translated to “I Am Betty, The Ugly One”). Often referred to as just Betty, La Fea, the series was created by Fernando Gaitán and starred Ana María Orozco as the titular Beatriz “Betty” Aurora Pinzón Solano.
Instead of working at a fashion magazine in New York, this Betty works as a secretary at a clothing manufacturing company in Bogotá. Over the span of 156 episodes, Betty, La Fea operates as a heightened comedic fairy tale in which Betty learns to shed her “ugly” label and use her keen skill in economics to overcome her poor beginnings. Or as the hilariously blunt description on NBC.com reads: “Beatriz Pinzón is intelligent, but not deemed attractive and is despised for that reason.”
The show was enormously successful, so much so that it’s believed to have inspired worldwide interest in the Latin American telenovela storytelling format. After its initial run from 1999 through 2001, Betty, La Fea was aired again on Spanish-language U.S. network TeleFutura in January 2009. It won numerous awards and received an animated spinoff called Betty Toons in 2002. Like Ugly Betty after it, Betty, La Fea would also be dubbed or subbed to air in numerous other worldwide markets including Greece, India, Japan, Turkey, China, and more. The show is even set to receive a sequel of sorts, more than 20 years later. Original stars Ana María Orozco and Jorge Enrique Abello are set to reprise their roles in a continuing series called simply Betty, La Fea for Prime Video in 2024.
If the story of Yo Soy Betty, La Fea were contained to only the original Colombian version, it would still be considered the most successful telenovela of all time. But as the existence of Ugly Betty suggests, there was a whole second life for the show in the form of its many, many unique international versions.
Other International Versions of Ugly Betty
Sometimes merely dubbing or subbing a show for a different global market just doesn’t quite scratch that content itch. In those cases, broadcasters and studios are happy to order local adaptations of popular international content. The Office is an infamous example. First created by Ricky Gervais in 2001 to air on British television, the relatable concept (“work is a never-ending nightmare”) was reworked into many different versions across the globe, including the tremendously successful American version.
When it comes to Yo Soy Betty, La Fea, quite literally no other telenovela has been adapted into more local language series. Seriously – it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records and everything. Per Guinness, Yo Soy Betty, La Fea gave way to 19 other adaptations around the world, including Ugly Betty.