Pandemic alters TV landscape

On the 11th month of the pandemic lockdown, TV viewers in Metro Manila and the provinces suddenly found themselves watching a drastic change in TV programming.

Retrenched entertainment workers affected by the shutdown of ABS-CBN in May last year found themselves employed once more by rival stations. Channel 2’s Ted Failon and DJ Chacha are now on TV 5’s early morning show giving stiff competition to Channel 7’s Unang Hirit. ABS-CBN’s Maalaala Mo Kaya (MMK) and FPJ’s Ang Probinsiyano are back on free TV through the rebranded A2Z Channel 11 as block-timer. Could it be the reason a rival station aired fresh episodes of Magpakailanman an hour earlier?

Moreover, the lockdown -- which interrupted tapings of new episodes of widely followed teleseryes-- also signaled the return of K-dramas which found new viewers on new digital platforms like the Heart of Asia (Channel 7) and the widely patronized Netflix.

GMA’s 24 Oras found itself challenged by TV5’s Frontline Pilipinas hosted by Raffy Tulfo and Cheryl Cosim.

With millions displaced and made worst by one natural calamity after another, TV stations scrambled to help people in need. GMA’s Wowowin host Willie Revillame helicoptered to worst hit provinces like Albay and Catanduanes to deliver cash and goods. Suddenly popular programs (TV5’s Raffy Tulfo in Action, Laugh Out Loud, Fill in The Bank and Channel 7’s Eat Bulaga and Wowowin) are refocused to help people displaced by both natural calamities and the pandemic.

Slowly, the stories of covid-19 casualties started to unravel in MMK and Magpakailanman. Nonie Buencamino and Shamaine Centenera Buencamino played a chapter in a family’s life tested by the challenge of the virus in Magpakailanman.

Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino as covid-19 patients in Magpakailanman.

Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino as covid-19 patients in Magpakailanman.

The real-life story of pandemic casualty Dr. El Bactol found a gripping episode in the MMK real-life mother and son portrayal of Arjo Atayde and Sylvia Sanchez who portrayed family members coping with death in the family.

To be sure, it is no ordinary death. Friends and relatives and can’t come near to comfort. The worst part is not being around during the doctor’s final moments on earth.

Sanchez and Atayde gave the roles its flesh-and-blood equivalent and emerged a brilliant team-up.

Like it or not, the MMK episode highlighted the indispensable role of frontliners in time of the pandemic. (Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto probably took the cue from there and on December 30 last year unveiled a marker dedicated to frontliners after the floral offering in the statue of Jose Rizal.)

Speaking of contents, nothing much has really changed on the TV entertainment landscape. It is the usual potpourri of noontime shows and early afternoon and evening teleseryes with token documentaries and talk shows in between.

But some real gems of a show manage to freshen up the weary TV viewers during the lockdown.

A good teleserye during the Yule Season was TV5’s Paano Na Ang Pasko? directed by Ricky Davao, Eric Quizon and Perci Intalan.

It’s the usual stuff of how families cope with domestic crisis. But with good direction and good ensemble acting, the show managed to stand out while the rival stations are taping fresh episodes of soap operas cut short by the pandemic.

With its good following, the teleserye got rid of its Yule flavor and re-extended as Paano Ang Pangako.

A well-conceptualized Saturday comedy series on TV5 is Oh My Dad! It is about a single father (Ian Veneracion) coping with kids from various mothers and trying to survive a predominantly millennial household.

Ian Veneracion and Dimples Romana in TV5's Oh My Dad!

Ian Veneracion and Dimples Romana in TV5's Oh My Dad!

It is good clean fun on Philippine television with the quirks of digital age coming to terms with a former basketball star.

How does the network rivalry look like now with one station gone?

According to latest surveys, GMA-7 is the most watched network with its 48.3 per cent people audience according to the figures presented by AGB Nielsen. It claims to have reached over 98.5 percent of TV households with an estimated 84.1 million viewers nationwide based on data from January 2020 to December 26, 2020.

With the sudden shift from traditional TV viewing to online digital network programming, ABS-CBN recouped lost grounds by getting 31.5 million subscribers for its entertainment YouTube channel. On top of that, the ABS-CBN News YouTube channel has logged 11 million subscribers as per latest figure.

Cast of FPJ's Ang Probinsyano in face shields during the pandemic taping.

Cast of FPJ's Ang Probinsyano in face shields during the pandemic taping.

But how do Philippine television look like now after a senseless shutdown of a network?

There is a perception that broadcast journalists have slowed down on criticism with renewed threats from the powers that be. Meanwhile, TV viewers turn to K-dramas and local teleseryes as quick escape to a deteriorating political reality.

A likely case of art imitating life is seen in latest editions of FPJ’s Ang Probinsiyano where a sitting president is drugged and replaced by an impostor head of state.

That is the same feeling you get when important announcements are aired in the dead of night and the main protagonist is not making sense. Very much like the drugged character in the Coco Martin long running teleserye.

True, soap opera seems to be a dirty word but whether we like it or not, they are the most popular shows in town.

Like it or not, it they offer quick escape from bad governance.

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