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Entertainment

Certified exclusive: Mr. T in control

Butch S. Raquel - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Floor directors warm the audience up, dancers take their positions onstage, the hosts wait for their cue and when the clock strikes 12, the studio becomes a world of its own, rolling out what is to be a two-and-a-half-hour noontime show overtaking television sets in the archipelago “Mula Batanes hanggang Jolo.” At the backstage, producers are glued to the monitors, production assistants either run from one end of the studio to another or write idiot boards on sheet after sheet of manila paper.

Then he enters.

In a measured gait, he walks from one monitor to the next, watching the show closely: Giving a nod, pursing his lips while listening and letting out a heartfelt laugh over a joke the hosts made on-camera. Staff members, hosts and guests alike who happen to pass him by say an almost uniform greeting, “Hi, Mr. T!,” to which an acknowledging smile or wave is returned.

“I’m here every Saturday,” shares Antonio P. Tuviera, T.A.P.E., Inc. president and CEO, also the unbelievably shy man behind the country’s longest-running daily noontime television program Eat, Bulaga! “Lakad lang ako nang lakad. Titingnan-tingnan ko kung ano nangyayari, magsa-suggest lang ng kaunti.” Walking seems to be therapeutic for Mr. T, as he is fondly called, saying it relieves him from being nervous, “If we’re mounting something, lakad ako nang lakad. Titingin lang ako sa monitor sandali tapos lalakad ako. That’s my way of parang releasing tension.

His weekly studio visit though began only recently, when he deemed his staff more than fit to run the daily show on their own. “I have very good people that’s why in the last, probably I would say five years, I was able to relax a little bit already,” says Mr. T. Still, he makes it a point to be on top of everything that’s happening.

“Even if I’m not here, I always monitor,” Mr. T ensures he catches Eat, Bulaga! whenever he could, wherever he is. “If I’m not out of the country, as much as possible in the car or wherever. Kung hindi ko man makita nang live, at least sa gabi, re-review-hin ko.” He then makes his calls, cites points of improvement or stuff he didn’t like, matters that will be part of the team’s agenda come their weekly meeting.

While working from outside the studio was a luxury he couldn’t afford in the early days of Eat, Bulaga!, it nevertheless gave him an experience he wouldn’t trade for the world.

“In the first 15 years, I was here every day,” recalls Mr. T, saying it wasn’t only the job that inspires him to report for work daily but the companionship formed with the people of Eat, Bulaga! “It was our bonding time, magkakasama kaming kumakain, every day noon nasa Channel 9 pa kami.” Eat, Bulaga! debuted on July 30, 1979 via its original home, Channel 9.

“We have this (unspoken rule) na kahit ano’ng mangyari, huwag mong gugutumin ang mga tao,” adds Mr. T. “As much as possible talagang ‘yung pagkain ang No. 1.”

Joey de Leon, the one-third of the Tito, Vic & Joey (TVJ) trio that Eat, Bulaga! catapulted to stardom, agrees with his old friend Mr. T saying, “Ang Eat, Bulaga! naging extension na ng mga bahay namin. Actually to be exact, extension na ng kusina namin dahil kain lang kami pagdating dito. Noong araw dalawa lang ang tanong mo rito pagpasok mo sa pinto eh: ‘Ano ulam?’ o kaya eh ‘Ano latest?’”

These same people who share meals together grew from a group of eight to become a company of 200 over the years, some of them being with Eat, Bulaga! for more than half of their lives.

“Most of our employees have been with me for 20, 15 years,” reveals Mr. T. “They enjoy working with the company.” When asked why, Mr. T only has this to say, “I guess because they are treated like family.”

Even if T. A. P. E. had a rough start as a business, people chose to stay, even if it meant delayed salaries and zero receivables.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“When we were in Channel 9, almost every day I was at the office of the finance officer,” recounts Mr. T. “Nakikiusap ako to allow us to go on the air because hindi kami nakakabayad at ka-cancel-in na nila ‘yung programa. Tapos magdadala ako ng tseke kahit kaunti lang ang amount and then I tell them: ‘This is all we can give right now.’”

“We had to start not from scratch but from below because may utang eh,” referring to the garnished company Production Specialists, Inc. which first produced Eat, Bulaga! before T. A. P. E.. “That’s why for the first 10, 12 years, we were really having a hard time. Parang we were just trying to recover. Kaya we went through I would say a lot, and probably that was the reason also why we really stuck together.”

The mainstays were not spared from the rocky beginning. “Like for example Tito, Vic and Joey, hindi sila sumusweldo ng six months, hindi sila umaangal. Basta kung ano lang ‘yung mabigay namin.” TVJ took it all in stride together with their old friend Mr. T. “So iyon siguro ‘yung ‘pag nagsasama-sama kayo sa hirap, parang talagang isa nang pamilya, sa hirap at ginhawa magkasama tayo.”

“We were like a family already. Our producer was like a brother to us,” describes Vic Sotto of Mr. T. “We enjoy each other’s company, dabarkads eh, it’s the true meaning of dabarkads na one family kayo, na hindi mo napapansin ang trabaho while you’re at it.”

It’s one thing to be part of a show for 37 long years, but choosing to be part of it is another, as described by Tito Sen.

“The camaraderie, it’s the relationship, it’s like a family,” begins Sen. Tito Sotto. “Ganun ang nangyari between the four of us eh, Tony Tuviera and the three of us (TVJ). A lot of people do not realize it and are not aware that from day one, after our contract expired for one year sa Eat, Bulaga!, we never signed another contract,” discloses Tito Sen. “It’s a gentleman’s contract.”

According to Mr. T, their goal was for Eat, Bulaga! to last for only a year, “Okay na kami kung mag-last kami ng ganun. That’s why it’s really a gentleman’s contract.” The same thing applies to most of their talents. “A lot of other talents that we have, ngayon na lang kami nagpapa-sign ng contract pero pagkatapos nun wala na rin eh. Kaya kung gusto kaming iwanan, then fine. Kaya lang we’re very lucky and we’re very blessed hindi naman kami iniiwan,” expresses Mr. T.

This same gratitude, Mr. T shares, for his employees. “I would say we are very lucky because we have the brightest people in the industry and they’re very passionate about their work. It’s not a matter of ‘Sumusweldo naman ako,’ o ‘Basta gagawin ko lang ang trabaho,’ hindi sila ganun. Masyado silang dedicated sa trabaho.”

He attributes this to Eat, Bulaga!’s strong familial atmosphere, “It’s like a family kaya parang anything na mako-contribute ng bawat isa, we listen.”

Like any family, Mr. T makes sure everyone’s motivated and rewarded for their good work.

“For example, we make it a point sa mga host na at least twice a year, we go out of the country. Minsan mga 41 kami na umaalis, minsan 25, ganun,” he says. When Eat, Bulaga! mounts shows overseas, everyone gets to go. “Kasi hindi naman kami pwedeng umalis ng ‘yung parang nucleus (core group) lang because when we do a show abroad, binubuo namin dito sa Manila so pagdating namin doon it’s a full show.”

When asked the million-dollar question as to until when he sees himself doing Eat, Bulaga!, Mr. T stoops and shrugs, “I really don’t know. I sort of become emotional when that is asked of me because honestly ah, I don’t want to see in my lifetime Bulaga (going) off the air.”

“I don’t know how long, I said I don’t wanna really retire because I think I’ll really get sick because it’s in my system already; and frankly speaking, I still enjoy everything.”

Yes he does enjoy it all: The colorful variety show, the guffaws from the hosts both in the studio and in a remote location, the excitement of the audience, the staff who are on their toes.

More than a producer, Eat, Bulaga! is blessed to have a father in Mr. T who bashfully says of himself, “Makulit pa rin ako, nakikialam pa rin ako kahit paano, and I enjoy. I never saw myself really doing anything outside of television.”

So for countless Saturdays more, the studio halls will be waiting for Mr. T to take his signature walk.

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