Why ‘Ugly Betty’ Was a Really Big Deal

From undocumented dads to gay kids, we'd never seen TV like that. Here are five ways the show blew up the small screen--with video to prove it.

By Jorge Rivas Apr 20, 2010

The remarkable "Ugly Betty" ended its five-season, primetime run last Thursday night, and the TV landscape’s a lot flatter for the loss. Say what you will about the ABC dramedy’s quality over the past couple seasons. The show featured a cast of brown-skinned characters that were unprecedented in primetime television. The series featured smart and strong Latinas, a powerful Black woman and even an undocumented father from Mexico. Not to mention the show’s humanistic handling of its gay and transgender characters. Just one of these characters would radicalize most primetime TV shows.

In the end, though, critics say the multiple storylines these characters spawned did the show in, by stealing Betty’s spotlight. During its first three seasons, "Ugly Betty" aired on Thursday nights, where it was mostly successful. However, when viewership dropped ABC shuffled the show around and lost even more viewers. On Jan. 27, 2010, ABC announced it was canceling the series.

That’s a shame, and here are five reasons why–along with a compilation of scenes that make the point better than I can.

No. 1–It was real. Networks are increasingly targeting Latino viewers, but "Ugly Betty" was the first primetime show to address real issues Latinos in the U.S. face–like immigration laws and trying to assimilate to U.S. culture. Lisa Navarrete, a vice president for the National Council of La Raza says "the plot line illustrated the complexity of the lives of many undocumented immigrants who are otherwise integrated into American life."

No. 2–Betty Suarez was no Jennifer Lopez. And she was the first TV Latina who lived in "both" worlds–the white professional Manhattan world and a Mexican working class home in Queens, NY.

No. 3–It was queer. Betty’s family accepted her brother Justin’s love for musicals and fashion from a very young age and never discouraged him from following his interests–which included Austin, his boyfriend. The show also provided a compelling and human portrait of Alex Meade, who transformed into Alexis.

No. 4–It opened other closets, too. Ignacio Suarez’s undocumented immigration status had its own storyline. That’s a coming out tale for 2010.

No. 5–And still, it was a family affair. "Ugly Betty" did all of this while still bridging the generational divide. Tias and Ninas alike were glued to Betty La Fea.