[03/05/09 - 12:02 AM]
Interview: "Ugly Betty" Executive Producerstracy Poust & Jon Kinnally
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

ABC's "Ugly Betty" has gone through some big changes in its current third season. The show's cast and crew relocated to shoot in New York City, the love life of Betty (America Ferrara) has bounced from Henry to Jesse to Matt and there has been some question as to whether the show would make it back for a fourth season. Our Jim Halterman talked to executive producers Tracy Poust and Jon Kinnally about all things Betty and the show's future.

Jim Halterman: One big question first � what is the status on a fourth season? There have been rumors out there...

Tracy Poust: Unofficially there is a fourth season.

Jon Kinnally: It's not official but unofficially...

JH: Got it. And is it safe to assume that the show's production will be staying in New York for that unofficial fourth season?

TP: That is the plan right now. I know everyone is worried about the [New York] tax credit thing but we haven't heard anything but we're in a strong position to stay. I think they made such a big deal about the show moving here that it would be weird to move now.

JH: With such a large cast and so many storylines to keep tabs on, how challenging is it to weave them in and out of each of other?

JK: One of the hard things is because the show is about Betty, you want to get her viewpoint on all the stories and not just have three or four separate stories going on. You want to sort of interweave them because you want to see her with other actors, rich vs. poor and how they all interact. We also want Betty's unique point of view on all the separate stories so it's very challenging.

TP: We try to arc out different character arcs but we work really hard to figure out how to possibly put Betty into each story. We're doing a story this year with Daniel (Eric Mabius) and the girlfriend and it's been a real challenge and we finally were able to do it so not just make that a separate island story. Sometimes it is because we want to keep all our characters together but we have a big cast and it's very challenging. The hardest thing I think we do is breaking the stories and coming up with the ideas and carving them out and weaving them together and we do it again, and again, and again.

JK: I think sometimes we will break these stories separately at first because it might be easier and then we'll just plop Betty into them and sometimes it shakes it up because it takes us different ways so sometimes it actually helps.

JH: As Betty becomes more and more of a professional how do you strive to not change her too much? That must be a particular balancing act to master.

TP: We always think about that. We like Betty as "underdog Betty" and if she becomes too cool-professional then it's not as interesting. So, I think we're changing the relationships. At some point Betty will continue to move forward. She won't be an assistant forever or maybe she will be but we'll try to create another obstacle in the way that always puts her in the position where she's not quite on top.

JK: We're definitely doing that at the end of the season. She's getting a promotion but it's going to come with strings attached. We love Betty most when she's an underdog and when she's vulnerable. That's when she's most relatable. When people hate her, we like her more so we have to keep some people disliking her.

JH: So is it safe to assume that you have the same story problems with keeping her family life going and also keeping that a strong part of the show?

TP: It was very hard for us this year. When we first talked about moving Betty into her own apartment there was originally a lot of resistance. "Oh, no, don't take her away from her family!" And so we said, "Alright, we'll make sure we move her back" and that was really hard for the writers because we liked Betty's new life in her apartment with Amanda. One of the things that we were hoping to do is have opportunities arise for those characters in the city. Justin might go to a Performing Arts school. There might be more crossover of her family into her world. We never want to lose them.

JK: It's also a Latino thing, I think. The family dynamic is so important. She'll never leave her family and it's so important for her to keep both things going and, fortunately for us, conflict comes out of that so sometimes it can give us good stories.

JH: With the character of Justin (Mark Indelicato), you've never actually said that he's gay. Since he's a teenager, what are the boundaries that you have to work within?

TP: The interesting thing is that we really haven't come up against anyone putting any boundaries on him yet. Right now, he's a 13-year-old kid on the show so we're trying to take it slowly, not make it an 'issue show' and try to keep what's fun about Justin in that he's completely embraced for who he is.

JK: We're definitely going to explore when he's out in the world more. Let's say he does go to a Performance Arts high school or be more out in the world, there's going to be conflicts because of who Justin is but he'll always be supported by his family. We do have to be careful because he is only 13 so we don't want to sexualize him in any way. I hope the series goes long enough where we see Justin with his first boyfriend. That would be my wish but that would mean the series would have to go a few more years.

JH: What about Wilhelmina (Vanessa Williams)? I could see her exploring a sexual relationship with another woman. Maybe Amanda (Becki Newton)?

TP: I don't know about those two characters but I hadn't even thought about Wilhelmina. I think of her more as a drag queen than a lesbian. [Laughs.]

JK: Wilhelmina is all about power so I almost believe she transcends gender. When it comes to power, there's definitely room to explore. I think there's something to explore there.

JH: The way you embrace all races, all sexual orientations, do you think there is an overall lacking of that diversity in television?

JK: We have a Latina lead and a Latino family as one of the focal points. I'm not sure any other show has that.

TP: Every other show makes every judge, every doctor and every judge a person of color and they think "Okay, we've done it." What I like about this show is we looked for the best actor to pay opposite Wilhelmina. We didn't play black, white, Asian, whatever. Everybody came in for that part and [Grant Bowler] was the one who kind of worked the best. It doesn't come up that much for us. What does come up for us is when we had another kind of spitfire hot blooded Latina person and we thought, "Oh, too many of that, let's make that character white." We don't need two Latina women who are exactly like Hilda (Ana Ortiz). We need to make sure we're not going too far in one direction so we try to go the other way sometimes.

JH: The show is so hopeful in terms of finding the happily ever after. Will Betty find hers or do we have to wait until the last episode of the series?

JK: I don't think the viewer ultimately would want the character to be happily ever after. You need some conflict there to root for her so she won't be happily ever after until the very last episode.

TP: She's such an optimist that I feel like she kind of lives that way. She lives optimistically and hopeful and then something gets thrown in her way but she always gets back there so I don't see Betty as someone in pain.

JH: Are the braces coming off? Ever?

TP: We don't know. You know, it's a hard thing because you don't want it to be, "Oh, she finally gets to be pretty."

JK: That's the message you don't want to put out there. You want the message to be that she's beautiful with braces so we don't want to do a 'Betty makeover' but, having said that, we've talked about the episode where that happens.

"Ugly Betty" airs Thursdays on ABC at 8:00/7:00c.

  [march 2009]  


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