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Beating the telenovela bushes for another ‘Betty’

'Cafe' may be headed for the U.S.

Now that “Ugly Betty,” ABC’s version of the 1999 Colombian telenovela “Yo soy Betty la fea,” has become a bona fide ratings winner in the U.S. following the original’s outstanding worldwide success, the question is: Are there any other Latino skeins with the same remake potential?

The answer may come from Fernando Gaitan, “Betty’s” Colombian creator. His telenovela, “Cafe con aroma de mujer” (Coffee With the Scent of a Woman), was a hit for Colombia’s RCN TV in 1994.

Ben Silverman’s Reveille, the U.S. production company that remade “Betty,” recently pounced on the U.S. remake rights to “Cafe,” while FremantleMedia, which bought the remake rights to “Betty” for most of Europe, has been developing a pan-Latin American version of “Cafe” with RCN TV. Both deals are still being finalized.

Mexico’s Televisa has just begun shooting its own “Cafe,” with the working title “Ardiente pasion” (Burning Passion).

While the heroine of the original “Cafe” was a coffee picker, Televisa has given the story a tequila twist, setting the storyline in an agave cactus plantation where the heroine harvests the cactus that produces tequila. The U.S. version may be set in a wine vineyard.

“It’s easy to change its setting to that of any other product, and it clearly draws inspiration from ‘Dynasty’ and especially ‘Dallas,’ both huge hits in the U.S. (and elsewhere),” says Gaitan.

He has no qualms about seeing changes made to his originals. ABC’s “Betty” is a weekly sitcom while the original is stripped daily, like all Latino soaps.

“While some characters remain and new ones have been added, I think that the U.S. version preserves the spirit of the original ‘Betty la fea,’ ” Gaitan says.

Argentina has also been a rich source of adaptable material. Telefe Intl., the sales arm of Argentine web Telefe, has sold “Montecristo,” loosely based on Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 novel “The Count of Monte Cristo,” to more than a dozen markets. The story of a man falsely accused of treason has been adapted by Mexico’s TV Azteca while nets in Chile and Portugal are developing their own versions.

Telefe Intl. also has sold remake rights to its hit sitcom “Los Roldan” (The Roldans) to countries in Asia, Europe and Latin America. Fox is remaking Telefe’s corruption-laden “Resistire” (Forever Julia) as “Watch Over Me” and is said to be mulling private-school drama “Rebelde Way” (The Rebels), produced by Cris Morena Group and RGB Entertainment.

A Mexican version spawned the hit band RBD that recently cut an English-language album aimed at non-Latinos in the U.S. Meanwhile, several territories are looking to make their own versions of Gaitan’s “Hasta que la plata nos separe” (Until Money Do Us Part).

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