Betty Suarez will use her recent promotion for good when Ugly Betty returns for its fourth season.
Members of the cast turned up at the United Nations this week to promote the UN Foundation's Nothing But Nets program, which promotes the use of bed nets that keep mosquitoes from spreading malaria. The global, grassroots campaign will be integral to the show's Season 4 premiere.
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In the episode, Betty's suggestion that Mode magazine cover malaria is rebuffed. So, she pitches turning the bed nets into a fashion statement and organizes a photo shoot at the UN. In the process, she spreads the word about the Nothing But Nets program — just as the show's stars are spreading the word in real life.
"It's really a perfect marriage," said Judith Light. "Betty Suarez is a person who has a great heart and a great soul. So in this story, it's not a stretch at all that she comes from a place that wants to help other people. She's trying to change hearts and minds about the way we all relate to each other."
Betty executive producer and director Richard Heus said series creator Silvio Horta wanted to feature the UN in the new season, and that led to a discussion of global issues, including Nothing But Nets.
"We took that back to the writers, and they said, 'Mosquito netting [and] fashion — that's very logical," Heus joked. "But we put that together and it worked. The storyline resonated with pretty much every member of the cast and crew. It was something we all could easily support and feel is very important. We're very grateful."
Read about other celebrity charity efforts
The initiative has raised $30 million and distributed 2 million bed nets since its launch in 2006, said Elizabeth Gore, executive director of global partnerships and Nothing But Nets for the United Foundations. A donation of $10 provides one net, which lasts up to five years. Gore said there are 300 million sleeping spaces in Africa, where 90 percent of the 1 million annual malaria deaths occur. UN programs have provided 140 million nets in the past three years, and the UN hopes to eliminate malaria-related deaths completely by 2015.
"We are so excited that Ugly Betty chose Nothing but Nets to spread the buzz," Gore said. "Malaria, while very serious, is a good-news story. We have found that when the creative community is given the platform to send this message, the American public does react. We're very excited; we've already generated a lot of buzz and excitement."
Cast member Tony Plana said the issue made sense for the show because Betty is "the United Nations of television."
"We represent inclusion," he said. "We're already connecting with a set of issues because of our cultural identity, and we are passionate about that. ... To know that we are able to extend that [passion] beyond culture and social economics to social awareness about issues of this nature just makes you feel so wonderful about the work that we do."
For more information or to make a donation to Nothing But Nets, visit www.nothingbutnets.net.
The new season of Ugly Betty premieres Friday, October 16th at 8/7c on ABC. Catch encore airings Thursdays at 7/6c on TV Guide Network, beginning October 22nd.