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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

entry arrow8:15 PM | No TV?

I've thought about it, and I've thought about it some more. I've decided I'm not watching ABS-CBN ever again. It's not just because of the Wowowee stampede tragedy. It's from a slow realization I've had that ABS-CBN has basically screwed and roasted the nation over slow fire for, well, years. Ah, fuck it, I'm not watching GMA either. Ah, screw it, I'm not watching all of local television anymore. Masa panderers, all of them.

A TV channel that can effectively push a pawn for the Vice-Presidency, first of all, must be evil. And any channel that can make newsmen out of the Tulfo brothers is the very threshhold to hell.

Then there's the programming.

Too many television shows, for example, are using the plight of the poor as excuse for entertainment, in the guise -- of course -- of "helping them out." (I'm not even going to try to expound on that. So many bloggers and columnists have already touched on the noontime shows' unwitting contribution to the "dole out" mentality of the population.) Paradoxically, shows like these "glamorize" the poor's lives, their dirt poor living being the sole reason why the camera is staring at them in the first place. Carmen Guerrero Nakpil (or was it Gilda Cordero Fernando? or was it Barbara C. Gonzalez?) reflected on this idea recently in an Op-Ed column, using the growth of the railway slum population with Home Along Da Riles as prism and catalyst. (Unfortunately, I cannot find the link to that article anymore.)

My own epiphany about TV's vampiric take on poverty came about when Jerome Salas, the recent winner of Search for the Star in a Million, edged out the singing competition (despite the terrible voice and the lackluster stage presence) -- all because he made the judges' middle-class hearts soften when he mentioned that he wanted to join the contest because, among other things, he no longer had any pairs of underwear left. I remember turning to my buddy after that moment, and telling him: "They made him win, because he doesn't have underwear anymore?"

I want TV shows that edify. Or at least be realistic about stories revolving around poverty, without coming close to "romanticizing" it. (The way Lino Brocka did. Although admittedly, sometimes he tended towards third-world overkill. Remember the horrible Sharon Cuneta-starrer Pasan Ko ang Daigdig?) Or at least entertain us without making bobos of us all. Sure, we can laugh at the barely-scripted adlibs and asides from our curiously overlong sitcoms, but don't you get that feeling afterwards that you've just wasted away precious time over absolutely nothing? Why don't our sitcoms, by the way, have any discernable story arc? No punchlines, no tension, all forced comedy -- with a gazillion cast members gathering in firing squad formation to deliver just one (mostly unfunny) line, and works for the laugh via quick slapstick. (Usually a punch, or a face.)

Where is our Oprah? (And please don't say Kris Aquino, or Boy Abunda.) There was a moment when GMA's Sis riveted us with its surprisingly intelligent gab fest -- but soon diluted itself quickly into a mini-variety show complete with a horoscope-reading drag queens. (That tendency to quickly deteriorate into masa mush was what killed, if you remember, the original Game Ka Na Ba? ABS-CBN reformatted the popular game show into a mess I cannot even begin to describe, and soon quickly left the air. It was a horrible "next level." It is the same with the popular dramas, most of which TV producers stretch out for the advertising mileage, so much so that they become convoluted and hysterical.) I remember Sarah Jessica Parker saying that she had to let go of Sex and the City, because they were running out of good stories to tell. Better to leave at the top of the pack, than to leave whimpering to the gallows. I wish sometimes that Filipino TV producers have the same tact.

Where is our Lost? Our Sex and the City? Our Will and Grace? Our The Sopranos, or Six Feet Under? Our The Office? In Russia, television is now all about lush adaptations of Dr. Zhivago, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, Master and Margarita, The First Circle, and The Golden Calf. In Poland, it is the entire Decalogue by Krysztoff Kieslowski.

There are moments of brilliance that soon cannot sustain themselves. About two years ago, ABS-CBN launched a spirited late-night drama Buttercup that promised to be an intelligent St. Elmo's Fire for the Filipino televiewer. After a promising start, it became trite and predictable, right down to the effeminate caricature courtesy of Onemig Bondoc.

Sometimes I wonder where our brilliant writers are in all of these... And I do know many of them who now work for television. The reply from many of them is always the same: the "edifying" concepts I've mentioned simply do not sell daw to the typical Filipino audience. And television is all about ratings, di ba? But it just so happens I don't believe in that bullshit. When Oprah made the move to stop becoming a copycat of Jerry Springer or Donahue, and instead focus on enlightening fare, she was warned that the concept would flop. Guess who's laughing all the way to the bank now. ("What about Points of View?" you say. "Brilliant gab show. Nobody watched it." I will retort: "Four words: Studio 23. UHF channel.")

Then again, I am unapologetically burgis -- so really, this is just my burgis two-centavos' worth.

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