Growing up in the mid-2000s in Colombia there was no escaping Yo soy Betty, la fea. I couldn’t go to school without overhearing conversations about last night’s episode or gossip about what might be coming up the following week. The show, about an unlikely “ugly duckling” who uses her wits to turn a fashion company around while falling in love with the company’s heir apparent, was a smash hit that turned the telenovela template on its head.
With oversized glasses, an unwieldy mop of hair with greasy bangs, braces, and no discernible sense of style, Betty was unlike any of the beautiful telenovela leads we’d all grown up with: actress Ana María Orozco may have been as stunning as Thalia, Lucerito, or Kate del Castillo (to name some of her Mexican counterparts), but in character, she was as “ugly” as they come — her oft-cracking voice and all-out chuckle didn’t help.
The RCN telenovela ran for 169 episodes and at its peak attracted 3.3 million viewers — a whopping 72 percent market share. It’s no surprise it went on to spawn a spinoff (Ecomoda) and even a Saturday morning cartoon that reimagined the main characters in a schoolyard setting (Betty Toons).
The show was so successful it went on to be adapted in close to 20 different countries, each using the basic set up (an “ugly” but brilliant woman succeeding in a beauty-driven industry) as a springboard to launch decidedly local stories.
Find below a list of 10 global adaptations of the Betty la fea story, from the Salma Hayek-produced ABC one-hour comedy that made America Ferrera a household name (Ugly Betty) to the Chinese production that was accused of casting a much too pretty “Betty” in its lead.
For a complete list of Betty remakes check out the international Bettybase on JerryBlank.com.
India: Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin (2003)
The first worldwide adaptation (premiering only two years after the Colombian show wrapped up in 2001), India’s Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin (There’s No One Like Jassi) starred Mona Singh as Jasmeet ‘Jassi’ Wahlia and Apurva Agnihotri as Armaan Suri. Like its Colombian counterpart, the very popular Indian drama centered on Jassi’s work at a fashion house where her looks clash with the high beauty expectations. It ran for more than two years, creating crazier and crazier plots to keep its two leads apart which may account for its eventual dip in ratings.
Germany: Verliebt in Berlin (2005)
Verliebt in Berlin (In Love in Berlin) starred Alexandra Neldel as Elisabeth ‘Lisa’ Plenske and Mathis Künzler as David Seidel. Again following suit, the show centered on the burgeoning romance between junior chairman of Kerima Moda and Lisa. The show was so successful that after 364 of episodes centered on the couple, the show went on for another “season” that focused instead on Lisa’s half-brother, Bruno Lehmann, airing an additional 281 episodes!
Mexico: La fea más bella (2006)
La fea más bella aired in Televisa, arguably one of the most well-known telenovela producers in Latin America. Best known for her work in Soñadoras, Amigas y rivales, and Las Vías del Amor, Angélica Vale stepped into the role of Leticia ‘Lety’ Padilla Solis, a pratfall-ready protagonist who fell for Fernando Mendiola played by Jane the Virgin’s Jaime Camil who was her boss at Conceptos, a video production house. Originally intended for a mere seven month run, it ran for over thirteen months.
USA: Ugly Betty (2006)
With her big smile and her signature poncho, Betty Suárez (America Ferrera) made her mark on American network television. Produced by Salma Hayek and developed by Silvio Horta, ABC’s Ugly Betty nixed the romantic plot that usually drove the Betty stories and turned it instead into a warm-hearted championing of Latina independence even as it also made strides in LGBT representation via Betty’s nephew, Justin (played by Mark Indelicato), and campy fan-favorite Michael Urie’s Mark St. James. It ran for four seasons and won its leading lady an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a SAG award, not to mention the hearts of Americans near and far.
Spain: Yo soy Bea (2006)
Yo soy Bea (I am Bea) plays up the very issues of beauty and ugliness in its title, which puns on beauty (“bea”) and ugly (“fea”). Ruth Núñez (who played Beatriz “Bea” Pérez Pinzón) and Alejandro Tous (who played Álvaro Aguilar) became a couple during the run of the show, which spawned its own brand of fans (feonautas). Like in the German version, the series’ success meant that after Bea and Álvaro married and Núñez and Tous left, the show just kept going on without them.
The Philippines: I ♥ Betty la Fea (2008)
Moving away from fashion houses, the Philippines’ version of Betty la fea was set in a prestigious advertising agency, Ecomoda Manila. The project brought together Bea Alonzo and her frequent on-screen romantic lead, John Lloyd Cruz. The record-breaking show stands alone in the Betty adaptations by being the only one which didn’t give its lead a makeover, letting Bea embrace her own inner beauty instead.
Poland: BrzydUla (2008)
BrzydUla (Ugly) starred Julia Kamińska as Ula Cieplak, making the title another clever pun, embedding in itself not only the word for “ugly” but the protagonist’s name as well. Ula works at Domu Mody Febo & Dobrzański, a prestigious Warsaw fashion house. On top of playing the lead character, Kamińska also sang the title song of the show and wrote several episodes of the series. Despite pushing yet another romance, this is one of the few international Bettys that never featured a wedding between Ula and her boss Marek Dobrzański (played by Filip Bobek).
China: Chou Nu Wu Di (2008)
Televisa also joined forces with Hunan Satellite TV (aka HunanTV) to produce Chou Nu Wu Di (The Ugly Girl Without Rival). The show centered on Lin Wu Din (played by Li Xin Ru) and her boss at an advertising agency, Fei De Nan (played by Liu Xiao). This workplace was popular in Betty adaptations for the way it allowed sponsors an easy way to capitalize on the growing popularity of the many series (in fact, the Chinese soap opera is sponsored by Unilever’s Dove brand which is promoted in various storylines within the show).
Brazil: Bela, a Feia (2009)
Co-produced by Mexico’s Televisa and Brazil’s Rede Record, Bela, a Feia (Ugly Bela) starred Mexican-Brazilian actress Giselle Itiê as Bela and Bruno Ferrari as Rodrigo Ávila, Bela’s boss. The setting this time around was +/Brasil, yet another advertising agency. This may be the adaptation that least resembles the Colombian original, with Bela’s backstory including having been a part of a comedy duo with her brother, who she believes was killed in an accident alongside her father (spoiler alert: they’re still alive). Following the tradition of great Brazilian ensemble dramas, Bela, a Feia had an assortment of characters and storylines, many of which don’t have any counterparts in the Colombian telenovela (or the American show).
Georgia: Gogona Gareubnidan (2010)
This Georgian adaptation is the first to have based not on the Colombian telenovela but on the American remake. Thus, the pilot of Gogona Gareubnidan (“Girl from the Suburbs”) follows closely the storyline of Ferrera’s Betty Suárez with Tina Makharadze’s Tamuna arriving for a work interview at Teve Tertmetis (TV 11), a television station in the capital, Tbilisi. Seeing as it premiered shortly before the American, Brazilian, and Chinese Betty productions ended, Gogona Gareubnidan was for most of its run the only Betty show airing around the world.