Novellas: Next New Wave or Just Plain Ugly?

Spanish-language TV novellas could be the next wave of low-cost high-rated programs - a trend started just a few years ago by reality television programs.

ABC just inked a script commitment for an American version of the wildly successful Latin American hit, "Betty La Fea," which roughly translates into Ugly Betty. Betty is an unattractive, unpopular assistant at a fashion design company who falls in love with her handsome boss.

If the show makes it onto ABC's primetime schedule, the plan is for it to run mostly like regular Latin-American novellas - that is, as a daily soap opera, running original episodes two or three times a week.

The ABC license fee for the show would, no doubt, be adjusted downward for the multiple runs in the week. Production costs would have to be scaled back because of the volume of episodes. Salma Hayek's company, Ventanarosa Productions, and Ben Silverman's NBC Universal-based Reveille LLC would co-produce the series.

Silverman - already known for his efforts with "The Restaurant" --- has already expressed interest in weaving in consumer product marketing companies to help foot the bill. For "The Restaurant," product integration partners included American Express and Mitsubishi Motors.

ABC has been down this road before with big consumer marketing in a show and airing multiple original episodes in a given week. In the short-lived hit, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," the network ran the game show as much as four times a week and AT&T was a major product integration sponsor.

While ABC soared to No. 1, its flight was short. "Millionaire" wound up hurting other ABC shows and new efforts. The female-skewing "Millionaire" wasn't necessarily the right show in which to promote hard-core male oriented dramas, like "NYPD Blue." ABC also hurt because it drastically cut back on future development - which only now the network is climbing out of.

More Latin-themed shows could be a good thing - considering the growing Hispanic population. One only needs to look at the nonstop skyrocketing revenues and profits at Spanish-language TV network group, Univision, to understand this. ABC's "The George Lopez Show," while not totally Latin-themed, has been sort of a start in this arena.

But ABC would do well to just toe the water and not dive in - even if "Betty La Fea" is a big hit at the start. ABC, at the right time, should be able to say, 'no mas.'

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