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Fernando Gaitan, Creator of ‘Ugly Betty’ Telenovela, Dies at 58

Celebrated Colombian television scribe Fernando Gaitan, whose original telenovela “Yo Soy Betty, La Fea” (“Ugly Betty”), a global franchise hit, changed general perceptions about Colombian TV, died Tuesday of a heart attack. He was 58.

Considered by the Guinness World Records as the most successful telenovela in history, “Ugly Betty” aired in some 180 countries, was dubbed into 15 languages, and adapted in up to 28 territories, including China, India, South Africa, and the U.S.

Before its U.S. launch, Variety described “Ugly Betty” as “a Colombian ugly duckling [that] catapulted the telenovela genre out of its Latin American barrio and generated more clones than any other Latin sudser.”

Executive produced by Ben Silverman and Salma Hayek, the U.S. version of “Ugly Betty” garnered star America Ferrera an Emmy and Golden Globe for her role as Betty Suarez. It was a ratings and award-winning hit for ABC from 2006-2010.

Gaitan had just signed a landmark content development deal with Sony Pictures Television, announced during NATPE earlier this month.

[Gaitan’s] “original ideas generate such captivating television content and fantastic stories that resonate with a very broad audience,” said Ana Bond, VP of international productions, Latin America and U.S. Hispanic for Sony Pictures TV, at the time of the announcement.

Bond issued another statement after Gaitan’s death: “At Sony Pictures Television we extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Fernando Gaitán, to a country that is mourning today, and to the thousands of fans around the world who admired his career and enjoyed his work. Without a doubt, we have lost a great talent in the industry. In recent months I had the opportunity to meet the person behind the genius, I witnessed the great passion he put into his work, and the vision he had with his new project; a vision that we share and dream together. Our commitment now is to honor his memory, and we are working to make the last of his works a reality.”

This was the first such agreement for the writer who had worked exclusively for Colombia’s RCN for most of his 30-year career.

RCN issued a communique that said: “RCN TV and its entire team are deeply sorry for the demise of its friend and writer Fernando Gaitan who for nearly 30 years created for our television the most captivating literary works for Colombian television. ‘Café con Aroma de Mujer,’ ‘Yo Soy Betty, la Fea,’ and ‘Hasta Que la Plata Nos Separe,’ were some of the most important works of Colombian fiction in recent times.”

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