The show I tried to kill

STAR BYTES - Butch Francisco -
The late ’80s up to the early ’90s saw a dearth of movie talk shows on television. This was the result of an advertising boycott initiated by the Philippine Association of National Advertisers (PANA) against the supposedly scandalous showbiz-oriented programs back then.

For quite some time, there were only two stable movie talk shows on TV: Eye to Eye (which was partly public service) and Movie Magazine, which were both produced by Inday Badiday and Gene Palomo for Channel 7.

In 1992, Charo Santos Concio thought it was about time showbiz-oriented talk shows returned to local television. This was how Showbiz Lingo was born with Cristy Fermin and this writer.

There were apprehensions about this show in the beginning. For one thing, the network wasn’t sure if it was going to be supported by advertisers. Then, there was the problem of the time slot – 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. (It became 4 p.m. after a few months.) Programs that were put in this time slot previously (Sta. Zita & Mary Rose, Junior TV Patrol, etc.) were all eventually cancelled after the first season on the air. ABS-CBN, however, hit the jackpot with Showbiz Lingo – modesty aside. In fact, its success spawned similar program formats in other local networks – including one with Kris Aquino on Channel 9. (Remember her controversial interview there with Bongbong Marcos?)

In time, however, movie talk shows started coming out of the ears of local viewers and, one by one, programs with this format started fading away from television – except for the original: Showbiz Lingo.

Then, in 1995, Channel 7 dared put up a showbiz-oriented program that was going to be pitted directly against Showbiz Lingo. Entitled Startalk: Generation Ek, its original hosts were Kris Aquino, Boy Abunda (who had previously hosted Show & Tell for GMA-7) and Lolit Solis, already a veteran of two other movie talk shows – Scoop and Showbiz Eye, both on Channel 13.

In the beginning, Showbiz Lingo got rattled about the direct competition. For a few months, in fact, it offered prizes to TV audiences to ensure the loyalty of the viewers.

kept us Showbiz Lingo people on our toes. Unlike in the past when we had the monopoly of showbiz stories, we had to accept at that point the fact that we had to play a tug-o-war with the competition when it came to inviting celebrities who were then in the eye of the storm. When Hilda Koronel, for instance, had a bitter separation from her husband, Startalk beat us to her for her live appearance. Since Ms. Koronel could not be at two places at the same time, we had to arrange for her to come earlier to the Channel 2 studio where we taped her segment as "live." At 4 in the afternoon, when Startalk and Showbiz Lingo were pouncing on each other in the ratings game, viewers couldn’t tell which one was live since Hilda even wore the same outfit to the two shows.

And then, there was this one instance when I took it upon myself to preempt the first live appearance of a comebacking actress on TV after a long stay abroad. Since the actress had already committed herself exclusively to Startalk, there was no way Showbiz Lingo could get her. What I did was to invite her to appear as presenter in the Gawad Urian which was going to be on the eve of her live Startalk interview. I thought it was going to lessen the impact of her appearance in the rival show.

But what a price I had to pay for that! Ms. Combacking Actress you see, had her own requirements. Condition No. 1 was for her to have her own dressing room. This was easily met in spite of the fact that the UP Theater where the Urian was held had limited dressing rooms. I figured that since the actress was coming in late, I could give her the dressing room originally assigned to Zsa Zsa Padilla who was doing the opening number. Zsa Zsa was leaving early anyway, so Comebacking Actress could very well take over her dressing room.

No. 2 condition was for her to be fetched at the Makati home of her aunt. I solved this by dispatching my own van and driver. Luckily I had won a car in the ABS-CBN Christmas party and had an extra vehicle. But then, I had to drive myself to the venue in my starched barong Tagalog.

No. 3 condition was for her to have her own makeup artist – of her choice. Since I wouldn’t be able to explain this extra expense to the Manunuri, I had to figure out a way to pay for it. I did find a solution eventually, but it hurt my own pocket.

No. 4 condition was for her to present the Best Actress Award. Well, since I was in charge of things anyway, it was easy for me to do that. This one backfired – no doubt my karma for trying to sabotage the Startalk interview.

As Ms. Comebacking Actress’ co-presenters, we put in Dindi Gallardo and Amy Austria. But the Comebacking Actress had her own style of running an awards night. She wanted Dindi to introduce her instead of them coming out on stage together. There were arguments backstage and they wanted me to intervene. I told them that the only way they could get me backstage was if they would allow me to strangle the Comebacking Actress. At that point, I wanted to recall her vehicle – which is actually my car – and let her take a cab back home or probably the UP Ikot jeep. To my relief, the kinks were eventually ironed out backstage.

Now, back to the awards proper. Actually, there were two winners in the Best Actress category: Nora Aunor and Helen Gamboa, who both appeared as Flor Contemplacion in their respective films. When the Comebacking Actress opened the envelope, she read only the first name she saw there: Nora Aunor. This made the Manunuri members panic because there were supposed to have been two names there. Fortunately, Amy Austria – a veteran presenter of awards nights – saw the name of Helen Gamboa and promptly announced a tie. But for a while there, I thought the audience would cry Scam! Mercifully, no one did. But I did realize that you really reap what you sow.

After that, we still tried other means to combat the compettion. But Startalk just wouldn’t go away. Kris Aquino already left the show to join ABS-CBN and replacement Dawn Zulueta had quit the program to get married, but Startalk was still there like a nightmare for us in Showbiz Lingo.

The most serious threat, however, came with the arrival of Rosanna Roces in Startalk. Fortunately for me, I didn’t get to stay long enough in Showbiz Lingo to see the repercussions. Shortly after Osang joined Startalk, I left for the US.

When I returned, I saw a lot of changes on television. Showbiz Lingo was already waiting for its death sentence to be signed by ABS-CBN management. There was already S-Files with Lyn Ching and Paolo Bediones. And Startalk? It had moved to the Saturday afternoon slot because Rosanna –the dutfiul wife and mother that she is – had requested GMA-7 management to allow her to spend her Sundays with her family.

But the biggest change – at least from my end – was when Boy Abunda decided to leave Startalk to join channel 2. Since I happened to be here in the country, I was taken in to take his place so that he may take over the time slot, which – modesty aside – I also helped establish.

Now, I’ve been with Startalk for three years and this afternoon I will be joining the show’s seventh anniversary celebrations.

By a strange twist of fate, the show I once tried to kill is now the show that is sustaining my life to this day.

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