Bye-Bye, Betty

Slate's Culture Blog
April 15 2010 12:56 PM

Bye-Bye, Betty

Mode magazine closed its last issue Wednesday night as Ugly Betty ended its four-season run on ABC. When the show began, it was heralded as network TV's first Latin-American prime-time import. (Its progenitor, Colombia's Yo Soy Betty la Fea , spawned versions in at least 19 countries.) As such, it would bring a soapy dish of secret love children, surrogates conceived with stolen sperm, and sisters who used to be brothers to America's living rooms.

Betty certainly did bring the crazy to its family plots and corporate intrigues. The show staged more dramatic death scenes than Saving Private Ryan . But under all those suds, it was one of television's most realistic shows—at least when it comes to the world of work. The show's real subject was the different ways to get ahead in New York.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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Method No. 1: Work hard. Betty Suarez arrived at Mode , the jewel in the Meade family publishing empire, with a Queens attitude and a Guadalajara poncho. She was hired not for her fashion smarts or her keen journalistic instincts, but because the Meade paterfamilias wanted a plain-Jane assistant for his lothario son, Daniel. It was HR as a form of rehab. Betty stood out like a sore thumb—she dressed funny (for a fashion magazine, at least; she'd fit right in on the R train), her weight ran into the triple digits, and she had much more melanin than the average staffer. But she endured. Betty put up with humiliation and setbacks, and worked like a loca , single-handedly saving the Meade empire at least twice every season. By the show's final episode, Betty had spread her wings and landed a plum editorial gig in London.

Method No. 2: Be pretty. In theory, Amanda Tanen was a receptionist at Mode , but she spent far more time gossiping, playing tricks on Betty, stealing from the fashion closet, and sleeping with the boss than she ever did answering phones.

Method No. 3: Be connected. Daniel Meade achieved his position as Mode 's editor-in-chief the traditional New York way: He inherited it. Although Daniel did eventually develop skills beyond model-dating and coordinating his shirts with his eyes, he didn't need to.

Method No. 4: Scheme. Wilhelmina Slater, Mode 's longtime creative director, outplayed, outsmarted, and outlasted all of her rivals in her quest for the editor's chair. Her command of schemes, tricks, and deception would make Machiavelli blush. Sympathetic types would say all that manipulation was necessary because, as an outsider, she could never reach the top of the masthead otherwise. At the end of the final episode, Daniel walked away from Mode , handing Wilhelmina the title of editor-in-chief. "You've earned it," he said.

I told you some of the storylines were unbelievable.