Compared to the local cinema, Philippine television is young and, of late, getting to be very dynamic in terms of programming. It used to be that Philippine TV followed a sort of standard programming as if the word innovation was alien to the network’s creative department. And the present innovations can largely be attributed to the convenience endowed by the advancement of technology.
ABS-CBN… the Philippines… largest… network, so goes the traditional blurb of Alto Broadcasting System – Chronicle Broadcasting Network, the foremost popular local TV network in the channel 2 slot during the early 1960s. Bob Stewart tried to create a healthy competition with his Channel 7, noted for his Lucky 7 Club which trumpeted his familiar “pam-pa-raram-pam-pam” expression aimed at the kids in and out of the studio. There was also MBC (Manila Broadcasting Corporation) at Channel 11 which relied on their heavily-laden noontime variety shows. Not to be left behind was ABC, the TV channel supported by Manila Times, the largest-circulated newspaper at that time, with the Big News as their banner show. Inter-island Broadcasting Corp. (IBC) at channel 13, which mostly catered to race horse aficionados during weekends, was a promising competitor although it just remained promising.
The daily fare of early TV viewers consisted of old film reruns of the Carmen Rosales-Rogelio Dela Rosa tandem, the antiquated but still funny slapstick comedies of Pugo and Tugo, the Lolita Rodriguez-Eddie Rodriguez-Marlene Dauden drama triumvirate and action films mostly set during the Japanese war. Noontime variety shows have only singing, dancing and funny spiels by the hosts. Pepe Pimentel’s Kuwarta O Kahon was the only game show (that first gained popularity on the radio) on Philippine television and had even a primetime slot. Weekend mornings were dominated by the cartoons of Uncle Bob’s channel 7. By the way, Lea Salonga’s first TV appearance was in Uncle Bob’s Lucky 7 Show where she sang Tomorrow, the theme song of the play Annie. Weekend noontime was the territory of Tino Lapuz’s Eskuwelahang Munti. Interestingly, all shows on any TV channel were in black and white since color TV was a rare object during those days.
In the 1970s, the panorama of the small screen drastically changed with the onset of the so-called New Society, more commonly known as Martial Law. Major TV channels were sequestered but a new one was born. Kanlaon Broadcasting System (KBS) channel 9, steered by Kitchie Benedicto, the niece of Roberto Benedicto, who was very close to Malacañang, came up with new programs, mostly foreign serials. Although TV ratings were still unheard of, channel 9 was tops in viewers – since it was the only channel permitted to air in the early days of the New Society.
And then Channel 3 was split into channels 2 and 4. PTV (People’s TV) channel 4 represented the media bureau of the government with its irritating Pulong-pulong sa Kaunlaran every time the sun set. Pulong-pulong made known the thing called simulcast because all other TV channels were hooked up to Channel 4 from 6 pm. until 7 pm. on weekdays. Later on, Channel 2 saw light again although Oras Ng Ligaya, featuring Sylvia La Torre and Oscar Obligacion, was not revived anymore.
With the affordability of the color TV, colored shows began to inch their way into the small screen. Promotion of sports was given emphasis, hence national sports activities were covered live and international sporting events were telecast on a slightly delayed basis. The MICAA (Manila Inter-Corporate Athletic Association), which was the national pastime of the viewing public had also changed color with the inception of the PBA, the first professional basketball league in Asia. TV programming had changed a bit but not much since foreign programs still dominated the primetime. Wild, Wild West, a simple Western setting with sometimes out-of-this-world plot, was one of the favorites among the viewers, young and old alike.
The last two decades of the past millennium saw the emergence of late afternoon soaps that provided a stardom vehicle for Janice De Belen (via Flor De Luna on Channel 9) and Julie Vega (via Anna Liza on Channel 7). Incidentally, Julie, who was Darling Postigo in real life, died of a mysterious disease at the height of her popularity in her teens. Her counterpart, Janice, got pregnant, courtesy of Aga Muhlach. Channel 7’s Student Canteen, the traditional noontime show of Eddie Ilarde and Bobby Ledesma, suffered scratches from the infancy of Eat Bulaga on Channel 9, which gave birth to the TVJ trio of Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto and Joey De Leon plus Ritchie D’ Horsie. Local TV sitcoms (situational comedy) flourished in primetime. M-Zet Productions joined the bandwagon with their Okay Ka, Fairy Ko series which was an offshoot of Enteng Kabisote, the Metro Manila Film Festival’s perennial top grosser.
Networks started to pump up their power. ABS-CBN, the ever pioneering network, hit the airwaves with their 50,000-watt transmission power to broaden their scope of coverage. GMA-7, which changed management when Bob Stewart passed away, followed suit, thereby sparking the silent battle although admittedly, ABS-CBN was lording it over all the channels of local TV.
Reality TV, once unknown but now getting to be a byword, is being exploited to the fullest. Who would say that an innovative parlor game called Extra Challenge would hit a record high TV rating? Who would say that a long-running star search would gain a huge following? And who would say that mere faces could be turned into celebrities via a prison term in an artificial house? Perhaps Big Brother and GMA’s Think Tank can explain all that. Noontime variety shows now have games with unimaginable prizes reaching millions of pesos, not to mention an array of casting from hosts to entertainers.
The ratings game can be likened to the box office sales of the cinema. GMA-7 has gained a foothold in the Metro Manila area although ABS-CBN is still ahead in the national census. But the arena of combat is not confined to our islands as the tentacles of our local networks have lately been reaching far and wide in other countries, spearheaded by TFC (The Filipino Channel). But amid the network war, indeed, Philippine television has come of age.
Locally, another channel is born. QTV-11, on the channel 11 slot, which promises to dish out alternative programming. Wholly owned by GMA-7, this only goes to show that local TV is a powerful arm of the media.
Ironically, the television’s growth rate has an inverse proportion with the local cinema which is purportedly languishing in a downtrend. Perhaps technology plays a lead role in the ups and downs of the trends among the sectors of the entertainment industry. Technology provided a great leap for the TV but it had somehow bashed the local cinema with the rampant video piracy and the proliferation of cable channels.
But whatever one may say, the local movies can still be saved provided it change clothes like what the local TV did. Otherwise, viewers will just change channels to suit their cinematic taste!
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