For those of you wondering why I keep hammering on about the appeal of new US TV show Ugly Betty, the answer appears in today's edition of the Guardian newspaper: 'British broadcasters are looking to the telenovela as their secret weapon in the battle to boost ratings, with the BBC investing millions in its own prime-time version'. Ugly Betty is based upon a hit Columbian telenovela, a form of soap opera where the story is finite but everything else is turned up to 11. The Guardian describes typical telenovelas as 'melodramatic tales of lost love, convoluted dynastic disputes and overwrought plot twists'. They can also be hilariously funny, with tongues buried firmly in cheeks and a level of camp bitchiness that would make Graham Norton blush.
It seems the BBC is working with several writers on a British version of telenovela, and has commissioned playwright Jonathan Harvey [whose name is regularly on the credits of ITV's flagship soap Coronation Street at present] to develop a telenovela project with Talkback Thames, the indie prodco behind The Bill and The Apprentice. 'We're going to have a go at doing something in the telenovela mould,' the BBC's head of fiction, Jane Tranter, told the Guardian. 'We will know how many episodes we will do from the start. It will have a beginning, middle and an end, but we'll shoot each episode just a few days before.'
The corporation flirted with the genre on its recent Bafta-winning adaptation of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, turning the novel into a pacily shot serial scheduled in the style of a soap with twice-weekly half-hour episodes. Ms Tranter said the BBC might simply take an existing telenovela and reshoot it for a British audience, as ABC did with Ugly Betty, or get writers who understand the genre to come up with new ideas. But she promised that any BBC telenovela would stay true to the spirit of the genre and not tip into irony or kitsch. 'They aren't the stuff of UK television culture so you have to understand what it is before you start breaking the rules. If we take some of the things that are very strong in it and have permission to have a bit of fun, we'll probably get something really good out of it.'
Personally, I can't wait. One suggestion: can somebody hire Jacqueline Pearce to star in the first BBC telenovela? She's perfect casting for this kind of story, as anyone who saw her being Servalan in Blakes 7 can testify. Hell, let's just make a telenovela version of Blakes 7 - you know it makes sense.