Silvio Horta, Creator Of LGBTQ-Inclusive ‘Ugly Betty,’ Dead At 45

Ugly Betty writer/showrunner Silvio Horta (screen capture)

Silvio Horta, who created the hit ABC dramedy Ugly Betty, was found dead in his Miami hotel room on Tuesday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

According to a statement from his family, the 45-year-old writer/producer “had an ongoing struggle with addiction and depression” but added, “he always found a way to turn his struggle into laughter.”

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our dear brother and son, Silvio Horta. Through his friendships, his love and his work in TV and films, Silvio touched the lives of millions. Silvio had an ongoing struggle with addiction and depression, but through it all, he always found a way to turn his struggle into laughter. He was a kind and beautiful man. He may be gone but his light will shine on.”

Ugly Betty, which ran for four seasons from 2006 to 2010, was a smash-hit for the openly gay writer from the get-go.

The series, an adaptation of the Colombian telenovela Yo soy Betty, la fea, chronicled the adventures (or misadventures) of fashion industry neophyte Betty Suarez, played by America Ferrera, as she made her way up the corporate ladder of the fictitious Mode Magazine.

In addition to being stylish and witty, the show was recognized for being LGBTQ-inclusive with storylines that included the coming out of Betty’s teenage nephew Justin (Mark Indelicato), the hysterical fawning of queer fashion assistant Marc St. James (launching the career of Michael Urie into a new orbit), and transgender character Alexis Meade (Rebecca Romijn).

The series also gave longtime LGBTQ ally Vanessa Williams the chance to shine as the over-the-top diva, creative director Wilhelmina Slater.   

The show landed with LGBTQ audiences not only for its fresh, undeniably queer slant but an empowering message of embracing our authentic selves.

Over the course of its run, Ugly Betty scored three Emmy Awards including one for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series and was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, winning two – one for Ferrera and one for Best Television Series (Comedy).

Numerous other honors came from organizations as diverse as the GLAAD Media Awards, the ALMA Awards, The Imagen Foundation Awards, and the NAACP Image Awards.

Horta’s career breakthrough came in 1998 when he wrote the surprise horror film Urban Legend starring future Oscar winner Jared Leto (Dallas Buyer’s Club) and Alicia Witt (Dune).

He also executive produced the 2001 series The Chronicle starring Octavia Spencer as well as UPN’s sci-fi series Jake 2.0 in 2003.

IMDB lists his most recent credit as the made-for-TV film The Curse of the Fuentes Women in 2015.

Horta’s Ugly Betty colleagues took to social media to express their condolences.

RIP Silvio Horta.

If you are thinking about suicide or are feeling alone and need someone to talk to, please contact the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7. Additionally, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Dr. Oz Spin-Off ‘The Good Dish’ Announced For Fall 2020 With Vanessa Williams, Daphne Oz & More

Tony/Grammy Award nominee Vanessa Williams & Daphne Oz (screen capture)

Created by the producers of The Dr. Oz Show, The Good Dish will serve up chat and chow for a new talk show scheduled for Fall 2020.

Award-winning actress/singer Vanessa Williams, Daphne Oz (daughter of Dr. Oz), Top Chef’s Gail Simmons and Jamika Pessoa (The Next Food Network Star) will serve as hosts.

According to a statement, The Good Dish will offer simple shortcuts, everyday recipes, and trends that will bring families closer, save money, make life less complicated, and help them figure out what they are having for dinner.

The show is a spin-off based on segments titled “The Dish on Oz” that have been featured on The Dr. Oz Show.

John Weiser, President First Run Television, SPT. said in a released statement:

We have experienced overwhelming feedback from our audiences on “The Dish on Oz” cooking segments, which have been recently featured on The Dr. Oz Show.

When Daphne Oz and this all-star ensemble were available, we recognized the opportunity for viewers, advertisers, and local broadcast stations.

We have on-air tested this format and talent for two years perfecting this show we are now bringing to market. Spinoffs have the highest success rate of converting into multi-year franchises. In fact, spinoffs gave us the great Dr. Oz straight from Oprah!

#TBT: Life Is A Funny Thing…

Me and Vanessa Williams

So, life is funny, sometimes.

As I arrived in Barcelona yesterday, I was reminded of this happy coincidence when I was here last year.

In August 2018, while traveling on the Atlantis cruise from Rome to Barcelona, I got word that award-winning actress/singer/dancer Vanessa Williams would be the surprise guest star on the cruise ship.

Longtime readers know I have been friends with the multi-hyphenate super-star since we were both freshman music theater majors at Syracuse University in the early 1980s.

We quickly traded emails excited at the prospect of seeing each other live, in person.

What happened was the bestest catch-up you can imagine as V and I, with my hubby Michael, spent just the most delicious hours laughing and smiling off the French coast near Nice, on the Atlantis cruise.

We explored Mallorca together, and I even joined her onstage during her concert (more about that later).

My apologies for the light posting today, as I was adjusting to the jetlag. But walking around Barcelona this afternoon, it was fun to remember the really wonderful company I got to keep just a year ago.

An Independence Day Celebration For All Americans Tonight On PBS

While the Defense Department scrambles to make Donald Trump's 'ego rally' come to fruition, I want to make sure you all know that the REAL 4th of July celebration - A Capitol Fourth - is still happening across Washington D.C. tonight at 8/7c on PBS.

While the Defense Department scrambles to make Donald Trump’s ‘ego rally’ come to fruition, I want to make sure you all know that the REAL 4th of July celebration – A Capitol Fourth – is still happening across Washington D.C. tonight at 8/7c on PBS.

Live from the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, the annual concert celebrating America’s birthday pays special tribute to American military heroes and their families.

Among the performers this year are Colbie Caillat, Carole King, Keala Settle, and Vanessa Williams.

Hosted by John Stamos, the show also features the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jack Everly, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” and the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets.

The finale includes fireworks and Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” complete with cannon fire.

Click here for more info and to confirm air times in your area.

Happy Birthday Vanessa Williams!

Bestest birthday wishes to my “fabulous, gorgeous, always makes me comfortable, always makes me laugh” friend Vanessa Williams who celebrates her birthday today.

I’ve known Vanessa since we attended Syracuse University together many moons ago.

Obviously V has gone on to major, major accomplishments over the years in film, TV, Broadway and the recording studio. So many to name, I won’t try.

But my favorite thing about Vanessa over the years is she has never changed the way she treats me as her old friend.

We may not see each other for a while, but she’s always the same person I knew back in school.

I’ve documented a few of our meet-ups over the years here, here, and here.

Me with Vanessa Williams, husband Jim Skrip and my hubby Michael Caprio
at pre-gala reception hosted by Fendi (all photos by Denise Truscello)

In 2017, I was asked to introduce Vanessa at Nevada Ballet Theatre’s annual gala as they honored her as “Woman of the Year.”

In my introduction, I shared the story behind the pic below when I had just finished cancer treatment in 2009.

Clearly, I didn’t look like myself after chemo, and I was very self-conscious.

But seeing Vanessa backstage after her concert here in Las Vegas that year, she didn’t blink. Once she knew I was good, she ignored the way I looked and made me feel as comfortable as always.

After commenting on my hairlessness – “You look fab with your bald head!” – she immediately asked, “Do you want to hang backstage and have Chardonnay and friend chicken?”

As I told the audience at the Nevada Ballet Theatre event, that pretty much summed up Vanessa:

Like Chardonnay, she’s bright, light and intoxicating.

And like friend chicken, she is truly “Soul Food.”

Vanessa rocks. And I adore her.

Happy, happy birthday, doll!

News Round-Up: January 29, 2019

• InstaHunk Dan Tai asks, "Do you count your macros?" I don't even know what that means (I'm sure it's important) because calves, biceps, deltoids, face...
InstaHunk Dan Tai

Some news items you might have missed:

• InstaHunk Dan Tai asks, “Do you count your macros?” I don’t even know what that means (I’m sure it’s important) because calves, biceps, deltoids, face…

Desperate Housewives/Ugly Betty star Vanessa Williams has been tapped for a lead role in Happy Accident, ABC’s family comedy pilot from the writers of Modern Family. #Yay!

• Congressional Republicans aren’t fond of Donald Trump’s idea to declare a ‘national emergency’ in order to get his beloved wall, but they’ve signaled they won’t put up a stink if he does.

Reuters reports that The Trump administration’s $1.5 trillion cut tax package appeared to have no major impact on businesses’ capital investment or hiring plans.

• A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 56% of registered voters will “definitely” not vote for Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

• And speaking of the 2020 election, Sen. Kamala Harris of California broke records Monday night when her televised town hall became the most viewed event of its kind in cable news history with 1.957 million views. The event drew the most viewers of any cable-news, single-candidate town hall.

• Out singer/songwriter Sam Smith and former Fifth Harmony member Normani release their sensual, moody music video for their hit duet, “Dancing with a Stranger.”

Alone in a lavish mansion, both artists are attempting to get over former lovers. I like the song; not sure about Normani’s dancing in the middle there, but I guess it’s in the title so someone had to dance…?

VH1’s “Daytime Divas” Premieres Tonight

Vanessa Williams in “Daytime Divas”

Can’t wait for the series premiere of Daytime Divas tonight!

There’s only one “I” in Diva!

And who better to be head diva than Vanessa Williams?

Based on former The View host Star Jones’ novel, Satan’s Sisters, Williams stars as the tough creator and host of a daytime talk show. The TV talker features five women who aren’t afraid to bare their claws when the cameras are off.

NewNowNext has a terrific interview with the Ugly Betty/Desperate Housewives star which includes questions about strong women and LGBT storylines.

You’re an outspoken LGBT rights advocate. Does Daytime Divas have any LGBT characters or storylines?

One of the co-hosts of The Lunch Hour, the show within our show, is sexually fluid with no apologies. And I think one of our strongest episodes is when Janet Mock comes on as a guest co-host. Our conservative evangelist co-host has a son who’s trans, and you’d think she would be judgmental, but she’s actually his champion and calls him by the name he wants. She asks Janet some really interesting questions, and Janet answers them in the most beautiful, sensitive way. I’ve never seen anything quite like it on an hour-long dramedy.

Maxine isn’t your first diva. Why are you so drawn to strong, powerful women with impeccable style?

Well, it’s how people see me, and it’s something people know that I can do believably, not broadly. I played a diva in Kiss of the Spider Woman, my first Broadway show, but I’ve been doing those types of roles since high school. Maybe my dancing background gives my gait and stature something that signifies power and elegance.

Is America not ready to see you as an average woman who wears flats?

I don’t know, but it might be fun to take on that challenge. Right now, by the way, I’m wearing very comfy, sensible shoes. But there’s a certain ease about playing Maxine because she is aging, and it’s great to be able to play a woman who actually looks her age. I’m 54 and proud of it, so it was a luxury to not have to get all pumped and pulled for a change.

Watch the first 8 minutes of the pilot below, and catch the full episodes on VH1 Mondays at 10PM ET.

Teaser: VH1’s “Daytime Divas” Starring Vanessa Williams

VH1’s new scripted series, DaytimeDivas, starring Vanessa Williams, premieres Monday, June 5 at 10/9c on VH1.

Inspired by Star Jones’ book Satan’s Sisters, Williams plays the creator and star of a daytime talk show with co-hosts who think they can make the moves to bring her down.

Sound familiar?

Check the little music vid ditty below as V asserts her dominance among young co-hosts:

“I don’t care who tries to get in my way, it’s up to you to memorize my name,
Looking sexy/famous I slay, cuz I’m a mother*cking D-I-V-A!”

I’m thinking summer hit series here…

Vanessa Williams Honored As 2017 “Woman Of The Year” By Nevada Ballet Theatre

Me with Vanessa Williams, husband Jim Skrip and my hubby Michael Caprio
at pre-gala reception hosted by Fendi (all photos by Denise Truscello)

I had the distinct privilege of paying tribute to my longtime college pal and gorgeous superstar, Vanessa Williams, Saturday night as she was honored in Las Vegas by the Nevada Ballet Theatre as their 2017 “Woman of the Year.”

Vanessa and I both entered Syracuse University as freshmen music theatre majors in the fall of 1981, and have remained close friends since then.

Nevada Ballet Theatre has a long history of honoring women of distinction at their annual gala event. Of the many luminaries honored in the past, several come from the world of Broadway including Chita Rivera, Carol Channing, Debbie Reynolds, Bette Midler and Debbie Allen (who served as Vanessa’s Honorary Chair this year).

In addition to being a leading ballet company in the U.S., NBT provides premiere dance education to young people in Southern Nevada in order to groom the next generation of dance enthusiasts. NBT’s Academy is regarded as one of the top ballet training centers in Las Vegas.

Plus, their many outreach programs take the art form of dance to students in underserved kids across Southern Nevada. Future Dance and its many initiatives provide scholarship opportunities to over 400 students a year and the program successfully reaches over 20,000 students annually.

Longtime friend David Weinreb, the CEO of the Howard Hughes Corporation which sponsored the evening, was the Dinner Chair and introduced Vanessa as she made her grand entrance into the ballroom at the Aria Hotel. One of the highlights of the night was a couple of swinging ‘surprise duets’ by Vanessa and Weinreb (“On a Clear Day” & “On the Sunny Side of the Street”).

Before she took to the stage to accept the evening’s honor, I was asked to pay tribute to Vanessa. Including the requisite list of awards and nominations that Vanessa has deservedly received over the years (from the Grammys to the Emmys to the NAACP Image Awards and more), I shared a personal anecdote from a few years ago when I had reached the end of my cancer journey in 2009.

While my chemotherapy treatments had done the trick, they had left me completely hairless and severely bloated making me almost unrecognizable. I looked like “Uncle Fester” from The Addams Family. I was very self-conscious to the point of being demoralized.

I was set to attend one of Vanessa’s concerts here in Las Vegas during that time and worried about shocking her when I went backstage. But Vanessa, always so intuitive to her friends, handled the “reveal” perfectly.

As she rounded the corner and saw me, Vanessa didn’t break stride, she didn’t blink, she didn’t miss a beat as she hugged me exactly as she always does.

She then held me at arm’s length and said with that sassy Vanessa Williams tone said, “You look fab with your bald head.”

She followed that with some of the most beautiful words in the English language: “Do you want to hang backstage and have chardonnay and fried chicken?”

As I remembered that story, it occurred to me that “chardonnay and fried chicken” is actually a perfect metaphor for the Vanessa Williams who’s friendship I love so much.

Like chardonnay, she’s always elegant, light, bright and intoxicating. And like fried chicken, she is truly “Soul Food” – always making everyone around her feel comfortable, relaxed and at home.

Vanessa, glamorous as always, wearing a gown by Christian Siriano, took time during her acceptance speech to advocate for the arts,  saying in part, “They are essential for mankind.”

You can check out a few photos below, all by the fantastic Denise Truscello (click pics to enlarge).

“But us, old friend, what’s to discuss, old friend?
Here’s to us; who’s like us?
Damn few…”

What an honor to introduce Vanessa Williams at the
Nevada Ballet Theatre’s 2017 Black & White Ball 
Vanessa Williams accepting her honor from Nevada Ballet Theatre
as 2017 Woman of the Year

Vanessa Williams (C) with dancers from the Nevada Ballet Theatre & the NBT board

Jim, Michael, Vanessa and me at the table during the event.
It’s The Black & White Ball, so there’s got to be a b/w photo, right?

Michael, Vanessa, Jim and I on our way from pre-event reception to the gala
I think of this as our “Reservoir Dogs” shot 🙂