A hit US series starring Brit Ashley Jensen of Extras mixes satire & shopping

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The Independent Online

After The Devil Wears Prada, get set for another slice of life from the bitchy world of fashion magazines. Ugly Betty, the story of a geeky office junior who rises to the top, is the latest TV import about to sweep the UK.

The show, a mix of high camp and couture, offers US viewers the, up to now unique, opportunity to log on after the show and buy the fashion items they have seen on screen.

But the show's biggest selling point in Britain will doubtless be Ashley Jensen, the Scottish actress best known for Ricky Gervais's Extras. She plays a seamstress called Christina who befriends Betty and gets lumped into a group dismissed on the show as "The Uglies".

Ugly Betty is Channel 4's big winter import and looks certain to boost ratings after steamrollering the opposition for ABC television in America. But the show, produced by the Hollywood star Salma Hayek, is likely to prompt concerns about blatant product placement by a channel with public service commitments.

Set in the cut-throat world of New York fashion magazines, it is the tale of an insecure young woman with a mouthful of dental ironmongery and the fashion sense of a morris dance troupe on acid. Despite this, she lands a job as assistant to the womanising editor of Mode magazine.

Viewers who lust after the lead character Betty's kitsch letter-B pendant can log on to the ABC website, and buy it for $172 (£90). Another character, Wilhelmina, sports white satin Manolo Blahnik pumps that are also identified and promoted, although the price tag is left off.

On one level, the show is the classic tale of an ugly duckling thrust into the daunting surroundings of the beauty industry. Betty, naturally, turns out to have the generosity of spirit and inner beauty to outshine everyone around her.

Channel 4 has high hopes for Ugly Betty. It has piggy-backed on the success of The Devil Wears Prada and also taps into the synergy that saw Sex and the City boost sales of Jimmy Choo shoes.

It is not yet known whether Channel 4 will follow ABC's lead in marketing products from the show. A spokeswoman said yesterday the idea had not been ruled out but that it was too early to say.

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