Sunday, September 21, 2008

Reality versus drama on primetime TV

This was my column last Wednesday, September 17. Late post again.

Primetime television just got a little bit more interesting with the launch last Monday of two new breakthrough shows, which, unfortunately are competing head-on for viewership. The two shows were enough to make me stay up late glued to the television set and made the ordeal of having to watch our senators acting like children once again a little bearable.

Ordinarily, competition benefits consumers as the one-upmanship usually, though not always, results in programs that are generally of better quality. This time, however, local audiences are at a disadvantage because the two shows have been intentionally designed to compete with each other and are therefore on at the same time slot. Audiences were supposed to deliberately choose one over the other. I refused to be pegged as a victim, so I switched channels after every few minutes in an attempt to get a good grasp of what each show was offering.

GMA-7 launched last Monday the local version of the international reality show “Survivor.” The show, hosted by Paolo Bediones, is dubbed Survivor Philippines. I understand the need to differentiate the local franchise from the original show which is why the country’s name is in the title. Everyone in the show is Filipino, although it is presumed that they had ample help from the locals. The show is produced by Filipinos. Unfortunately, the most important part of the show—the setting—is not in the Philippines. Thus, the title is not only misleading, it can be construed as an affront to the image of the country as a tourism destination in its own right. Each of the international Survivor series was named after the countries where the series were shot on location (e.g., Survivor Marquesas, after the islands).

And now, we have Survivor Philippines featuring the breathtaking, panoramic, and idyllic views of… Thailand!

This issue could have been avoided if GMA-7 chose to stage at least its pilot series within the country. (I learned later that the international franchise rules of the series require that all episodes of the show be shot on location outside of the country of the franchisee - Bong Austero) I love Thailand; but quite frankly, we have islands that are comparable, if not better. We are an archipelago, remember? In fact, the recent French franchise of the same series was shot in one of the islands in Camarines Sur.

Unfortunately, commercial considerations require that before any show or movie could be considered big, or major, or of international standards, it has to be filmed or shot on location abroad.

Truly, some paradigms such as colonial mentality are deeply entrenched in our psyche and are difficult to let go. Thus, there has been this newfound abundance of local films and shows that were filmed abroad, Europe in particular. Sharon Cuneta’s last movie, “Caregiver,” was shot in London. The recent Richard Gutierrez and KC Concepcion movie was filmed in Greece. And the upcoming Dennis Trillo and Jolina Magdangal movie was filmed aboard a cruise ship that sailed to some key cities in Europe.

Anyway. GMA-7’s current attempt to localize an international franchise seems to be a major improvement over previous failed attempts. Somehow, GMA-7 just didn’t seem to get all the ingredients right in the past and a lot of things seemed lost in translation, or to be more specific, in the staging. The recent staging of the local franchise of “American Idol” was a classic example.

To put it bluntly, it didn’t fly because it looked the network scrimped on production costs. They also tried to localize it too much to the point that it seemed specifically targeted for a narrow segment of the population rather than for a broader audience. As a result, most viewers, including myself, tuned off very early on.

If we are to believe the scuttlebutt, GMA-7 is said to spend a fraction of what rival ABS-CBN spends for the same type of productions. The results are often evident in terms of production values such as lighting, props, and other technical aspects; not that these are the only indicators of quality, of course. But based on what we saw last Monday, it was evident that GMA-7 is spending a fortune on Survivor Philippines. Not only did they fly the cast and crew to Thailand, they also built facilities on the island including what looks like a Buddhist temple-inspired tribal council area where the cast (called castaways in Survivor Philippines) vote out members of their tribe.

The local franchise seems intent on being a copycat of the international series down to the panning shots of the island. But some attempts to align with Philippine television norms already seem evident. There’s the obvious focus on sex elements—not only were most of the castaways already shown in various stages of undress last Monday, but one can also already sense the subtle buildup of certain castaways based on physical attributes. It’s the same formula that has worked for other local shows such as “Pinoy Big Brother” and “Pinoy Dream Academy.” In fact, the teasers for the local franchise of “Fear Factor” which will be shown soon by ABS-CBN has been shamelessly capitalizing on the physical attributes of the contestants by showing lingering footages of bodies clad only in skimpy attires.

And because we do seem to have this penchant for shows that feature over-the-top drama, we expect Survivor to show lots of caterwauling, screaming, whining, and lots and lots of childish, immature and even neurotic behaviors. These sell, in case you didn’t know.

The challenge for GMA-7 is how to sustain interest in the show. While it is unfair to expect the same level of technical wizardry that is found in the original Survivor which has more resources and had more experience mounting the show, a comparison is inevitable because most people are familiar with the international series. GMA-7 has no choice but to try to live up to the standard.

Up against Survivor Philippines is “Kahit Isang Saglit,” a telenovella that is blazing new paths simply because it is a collaborative effort between two networks from two different countries: Malaysia and the Philippines.

It’s too bad really that the two shows, Survivor Philippines and Kahit Isang Saglit, are being pitted against each other. There’s really something unique and worthwhile that each one offers.The premiere episode of Kahit Isang Saglit introduced the two leads in a rather brisk pace—they were shown as children in the first half and as adults in the later part of the show—were shot on location in Malaysia and in the Philippines. The panoramic shots of Malaysia were breathtaking.

If Survivor makes big deal of its idyllic location, Kahit Isang Saglit was not really outdone last Monday because the Malaysian locations they featured including footages of a live festival and fireworks display were spectacular. And of course, the show features Carmen Soo, who is supposed to be the biggest female star in Malaysia today and who looks really good onscreen; and Jericho Rosales of “Pangako Sa Yo” fame. The show likewise broke new ground because the Malaysian characters speak English —so here we finally have a mainstream telenovella where characters speak English half the time.

It’s really too bad that two shows are colliding on the same time slot. It’s a win-loss situation for the networks because one will obviously prevail in the ratings game. It’s a loss-loss situation for viewers.

Anyway. The late cast of the news came on just a little later after the two shows and strangely it didn’t look any different from Survivor and Kahit Isang Saglit. Our senators look like they are on a parallel set of Survivor and are out to outwit, outlast, and outlive each other. The drama was also comparable, if not even more mind-blowing.

2 comments:

E said...

LOL on for this post Bong hehehehehe...

As for the title philippine Survivor..what if they change it to Pinoy Survivor then add a "(Thailand)".....Nako, don't get mad na kasi next year sasali ako jan hehehehe

Twin-Skies said...

Now that I think about it, the only time I ever tune into either GMA or ABS-CBN is to:

1. Watch the news.
2. Ridicule the rubbish each network passes off as "shows."

If GMA's mangling of Zaido (aka Shaider) is any indication, all they really care about is the franchise's name. The rest of it - content, plot, acting, etc. - is nothing more than an ill-conceived sales pitch for their local stars and starlets. In other words, a hollow shell.

Don't even get me started on ABS-CBN.

I say in all sincerity that I hope Survivor Philippines will do poorly when it airs; doomed to float off into the dark abyss of past flops.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be getting back to Discovery Channel...