Below, Ron Wynn scans the coming week of TV, including tonight's series finale of Ugly Betty and this weekend's season wrap-up of the Roman bloodbath Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
One of network television's most honored programs completes its run Wednesday night, and it's another example of how a once-successful show can be ruined before its time by dumb scheduling. For three of its four years, ABC's (WKRN-Channel 2) Ugly Betty was a Thursday-night success, reaching a high of 11 million viewers in its first season.
But after the program experienced a dip in its 18-49 demo during the third season, ABC executives panicked and decided to shift the show to Friday nights, now the second worst night of the week in terms of total audience. (Only Saturday has lower viewing levels.) When the program's still-loyal fans organized protest and email campaigns, the network shifted it to Wednesdays, then announced last month that it had been cancelled, with the program now down to 5 million viewers.
When Ugly Betty debuted in September of 2006, a handful of misinformed critics pegged it as a Latino rip-off of The Devil Wears Prada. Actually, it was an American version of Fernando Gaitan's Colombian telenova Yo So Betty, La Fea, about the misadventures of a young woman hopelessly in love with her boss. It was also a straight soap opera with daily cliffhangers, one of many things changed in its reworking for U.S. viewers.
The ABC edition spotlighted a nervous but good-hearted young woman named Betty Suarez (America Ferrera) who took a job at a fashion magazine even though she knew next to nothing about either clothes or journalism. Her new boss Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), who had just taken over the editor's job, was regarded as unqualified by almost the entire staff — especially Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams), who wanted the job, and his father (Alan Dale), who owned the magazine.
At its best, Ugly Betty managed to explore many issues seldom featured in network comedies. They ranged from illegal immigration and the working experiences of models to life among Latinos, the difficulty of gays in the workplace, even the back-stabbing at big fashion publications. But it never became too serious or preachy, and the producers inserted plenty of fantasy sequences, improbable dilemmas and other sit-com devices to balance the occasional dramatic moments,
Wednesday's finale at 9 p.m. includes an opening funeral, and resolution of several plot devices. These include a decision on whether Betty's sister Hilda (Ana Ortiz) moves away, the final fate of Daniel and Mode magazine, the location of Amanda's (Becki Newton) father, and personal satisfaction for Marc (Michael Urie) — plus a suitable personal and professional end for Betty.
During its run the show has received some 162 nominations, winning multiple Emmy, Golden Globe, NAACP Image and Alma (for achievement in programs involving Latinos) awards.
Reruns of Ugly Betty have been picked up by the TV Guide channel and the program will also no doubt go into domestic syndication. The first three seasons are also available on DVD, and there's talk of a possible reunion film and/or Broadway play. But whether any of these things happen, Ugly Betty's impact is unquestioned. At its peak, it brought 11 million viewers quality weekly entertainment from a perspective that's still not widely represented on network TV.
'Spartacus' sheaths his sword
There may be more violent shows on cable than Starz's Spartacus: Blood and Sand, but I certainly haven't seen them. The film 300 had its share of graphic blood and gore, but Spartacus: Blood and Sand makes it seem G-rated by comparison. Friday's season finale at 9 p.m. is being billed as the ultimate slice-and-dice fest, and it bears the title "Kill Them All." It's also reportedly going to be a turning point in terms of the show's content, according to TV Guide.
The second year is titled Spartacus: Vengeance and will focus more on the political fallout that results from the gradual buildup of the slave army challenging the Roman empire. Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) will sharpen his diplomatic skills and concentrate as much on strengthening his resources as he does in the first season's climatic episode on eliminating almost all his foes at the gladiator school. Meanwhile, look for perhaps the highest body count on any episodic show this season.
Country returns to Las Vegas
Reba McEntire takes on hosting duties for the 12th time Sunday when CBS (WTVF-Channel 5) airs the 45th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards live from Las Vegas at 7 p.m. Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Toby Keith and McEntire are among the performers, while the show will also feature the final ACM appearance of Brooks & Dunn..
Fans can also vote for both Entertainer of the Year and Top New Artist at acmcountry.com. The online fan participation in the Entertainer of the Year voting has drawn some criticism, most notably from multiple winner Chesney a few years ago.
The Front, the second of two made-for-TV films based on mystery novelist Patricia Cornwell's books about an ambitious Boston DA, airs Saturday night on Lifetime at 8 p.m. This time Monique "Money" Lamont (Andie MacDowell) and her lead investigator (Daniel Sunjata) reopen a 40-year-old cold case that could prove her undoing due to its political backdrop and connections. Cornwell even has a small cameo role.