- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ugly’ hype

Had ABC’s new seriocomedy “Ugly Betty” bowed without such beneficent hype, we would greet its arrival with a pleasant shrug.

But ever since the show got its audacious nickname, people have been singing its praises — prematurely, it turns out.

The sitcom, debuting at 8 tonight, is a fusion of “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Working Girl,” with a kiss of telenovela.

It gets a star-making turn from America Ferrara as Betty, but the rest, alas, is far from pretty.

Young, determined Betty Suarez lands a job fresh out of college at a major fashion magazine. She’s hardly the model type. In one early scene, she wears a gaudy poncho that would make a blind man wince. She’s smart and hardworking, which her boss Daniel (Eric Mabius) initially ignores. He’s too busy bedding models and staving off a rival employee named Wilhelmina (Vanessa L. Williams, not nearly as over the top as the role demands). Naturally, Betty’s smarts save Daniel’s neck in tonight’s premiere and set the stage for more three-sided brawls between Betty, Daniel and Wilhelmina.

It’s certainly refreshing to find a conventional Latino family front and center on television, and Hollywood was bound to look to the telenovela format for inspiration. So far, though, “Ugly Betty” can’t muster that genre’s flavor and is similarly lacking in both humor and compelling drama.

Miss Ferrara may not be Heidi Klum, but every time she smiles, she wins us over, and she is equally adept at conveying Betty’s dueling drives. She would rather write about Darfur than the new spring collection, but she knows her first magazine job can pave the way for her future writing career.

Executive producer Salma Hayek — watch for a tiny cameo — based the series on the hit Colombian telenovela “Yo Soy Betty, la Fea” (“I Am Betty, the Ugly”). Most viewers, however, will judge the series on its own merits.

It will be a snap to root for Betty’s triumph over the shallow fashion world, but those searching for more may face an ugly reality.

Saved by the tape?

There seems to be a new Hollywood truism — if you can’t get publicity, make a sex tape.

That might be behind the latest video to hit the airwaves. Dustin Diamond hasn’t done much since he played the nerdy Samuel “Screech” Powers in the NBC teen sitcom “Saved by the Bell” (1989-1993), but a 40-minute video of him having sex with two women is making the rounds, the New York Daily News reported yesterday.

Phoenix-based agent David Hans Schmidt, who has brokered some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrity-skin deals, told the paper that he has acquired the rights to a tape featuring the 29-year-old Mr. Diamond. “Just when you think you have seen everything in this business,” he said, “mankind has raised the bar another notch. Or lowered it.”

Mr. Diamond’s manager, Roger Paul, said his client has become a successful stand-up comic and will appear on the ABC comedy “The Knights of Prosperity.”

“I haven’t seen the tape,” Mr. Paul told the Daily News. “I’ve heard rumors. Dustin has been trying to escape the Screech typecast. So this may help me get more bookings.”

In 1995, former “Saved by the Bell” star Elizabeth Berkley bared all in thePaul Verhoeven-Joe Eszterhas film “Showgirls.”

Bono to talk shop

David Stewart’s upcoming music-themed interview show has its first guest, Reuters news agency reports, and it’s a doozy — U2 frontman Bono.

Mr. Stewart, a musician and producer best known as half of the Eurythmics, will host the series on HBO. It’s described as “musicians on musicians,” with Mr. Stewart interviewing fellow artists about their work. HBO ordered six half-hour episodes and will begin airing them early next year.

It may have been easy for Mr. Stewart to snag such a high-profile guest: One of the show’s producers, Jimmy Iovine, runs U2’s Interscope Records label, Reuters reports.

Compiled by Christian Toto and Kelly Jane Torrance from staff and wire reports.

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