In Colombia, it has become a national addiction: the tale of a plain secretary working in a glamorous fashion house. Now Channel 4 hopes an American remake will prove equally popular in the UK.
Channel 4 has been seeking a comedy that can match the extraordinary success of Friends. Now, after recent screenings of new American shows in Los Angeles, it has bought the exclusive British rights to Betty The Ugly, which is based on a Colombian "telenovela" and features Ashley Jensen, who starred in one of Ricky Gervais's Extras shows, in her first US network role.
The channel has also acquired the British rights to The Class, a sitcom about a group of twenty-something former school mates who are reunited, from the Emmy award-winning Friends co-creator, David Crane.
The Hollywood actress Salma Hayek is the executive producer of Betty The Ugly, a remake of Colombia's Betty La Fea, which is described as a "quirky" comedy series of one-hour shows. Produced by Buena Vista International, which is owned by Disney, the comedy will air first on the ABC network in the US, which is home to the Channel 4 hits Lost and Desperate Housewives.
The main character, Betty Suarez, played by America Ferrara, is an apparently plain but intelligent and industrious secretary who works for the New York fashion magazine Mode. When the wealthy owner puts his son in charge of the magazine, he hires Betty as his assistant because he will not be attracted to her. Both new to the fashion world, they find themselves up against a designer-label obsessed staff, bent on making sure that they fail. The show was so popular in Colombia that when the lead character was offered a bribe in one episode, newspapers ran headlines urging her not to be corrupted. Channel 4's second purchase, The Class, made by Warner Bros, revolves around a group of eight former classmates who have lost touch with each other and meet up after two decades at a school reunion. The comedy features the former EastEnders actor Sean Maguire.
Channel 4 has also acquired two hotly anticipated new dramas. Brothers & Sisters features the Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart and Six Feet Under's Rachel Griffiths. It tells the story of the adult children of William Walker who gather, with their respective families, to celebrate the birthday of their sister, Kitty. A successful radio presenter, Kitty has just been offered a job as a television pundit in Los Angeles. But to complicate matters, her boyfriend in New York has just proposed.
The channel has also bought the rights to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, by the creator of The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin. The programme is a behind-the-scenes look at the world of network television. The Friends actor Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford, who plays Josh Lynam in The West Wing, star as a writer/producer team on a failing late-night comedy sketch show. Dan Wootton, of Broadcast magazine, who travelled to LA in order to watch Betty The Ugly and the other new US shows, said: "It's really interesting, because it's very different to anything else that's on.
"A telenovela is like a soap opera that has a fixed length. It runs for a few months. It's a concept that UK broadcasters have been reluctant to try themselves. They are meant to be cheaper to produce than dramas, but better quality than soap operas."
Channel 4's director of acquisitions, Jeff Ford, said: "We are delighted to have secured the rights to these much sought-after series."