Albee: Guess who is holding the empty bag?

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star
Albee: Guess who is holding the empty bag?
Brightlight big boss Albee Benitez at his Negros Occidental Theme Park Magikland.

What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind;

In the primal sympathy

Which having been must ever be...

— William Wordsworth

I’m not so sure if you can find any (even if subtle) link between those immortal lines (reprised in the bittersweet 1961 movie Splendor in the Grass starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty) and the recent showbiz goings-on, but I do.

After that rather “poetic” intro, let’s let the splendor in the grass be and get down to brass tacks.

“I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel...” started Brightlight Productions big boss Albee Benitez, “they were telling me that it takes time to develop. We were really hoping that there would be some light but I never saw that light. Whether you believe that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, at a certain point it becomes a business decision. Ano muna tayo...cut losses. Let’s fight some other time.”

In his characteristic calm, cool and composed demeanor, Albee was reacting to what showbiz observers called the “ranting” of Johnny “Mr. M” Manahan over the untimely demise of his Sunday show Sunday Noontime Live (SNL) which was axed after only three months (starting in October last year, equivalent to one season/cycle). Two other Brightlight shows suffered the same fate, namely I Got You and Sunday Kada.

After The STAR broke the scoop (on Monday last week, Jan. 18) that Cignal/Kapatid TV5 and Kapamilya ABS-CBN were into a partnership (should we now call the tie-up Kamag-anak?), rumors spread that SNL — earlier announced as folding up — was to be replaced by the 25-plus-year-old Kapamilya Sunday show ASAP Natin ‘To which used to be directed by Mr. M. Ouch!!! Masakit ‘yon, ah! It did happen last Sunday, Jan. 24, with a reinvigorated ASAP in top fighting form now directed by Joanne Laygo (empowered women, rejoice!).

Mr. M quit ABS-CBN in September last year after 35 years, serving as head of Star Magic which continued to be manned by his long-time partner Mariole Alberto until last Jan. 1 when Laurenti Dyogi took over. Dyogi is described as “well-liked, well-loved and easy to deal with.” He is in-charge of the PBB (Pinoy Big Brother) show which launched the careers of, among others, Ejay Falcon, Sam Milby, Gerald Anderson, Maymay Entrata, Edward Barber and Kim Chiu.

Asked about the “ranting” of Mr. M in an interview with the Summit Media editors, Albee (former Negros Occidental congressman) simply said, “I didn’t have to read it. Basically, as I have said, at the end of the day, it was a business decision. I told them, ‘Sorry na lang; let’s just fight another day, let’s wait for the signal to be better.’”

Brightlight’s Cignal/TV5 six-month contract (October 2020 to March 2021) is for six shows (the remaining three are the daily show LOL/Lunch Out Loud, Rated K hosted by Korina Sanchez and Oh My Dad).

“Only LOL is directly produced by Brightlight,” explained Albee. “The rest are line-produced.”

Brightlight big boss Albee Benitez with the poster of the park’s movie version shown at last December’s 2020 MMFF: Why should I continue a project that is losing money?

The SNL line-producer is Cornerstone headed by Erickson Raymundo.

“I gave them the weekly budget (not revealed) at bahala na sila how to dispose of it,” noted Albee who is not new to the TV business, having produced and co-hosted a show called The Game Changer Philippines (2016) with his son Javi (who has ventured into acting) on the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC). “Pag kulang, we would make adjustments.”

Did he have any idea how the budget was divided among the stars and other production people?

“No,” replied Albee. “Ask Cornerstone.” (Note: Funfare texted Erickson but he didn’t answer.) Added Albee, “I really don’t know. I’ve been hearing some figures (talent fee) but I am not sure. That’s Cornerstone’s responsibility.

“Every week, they would update me on the rating. The premiere episode was okay, mataas ang rating but it started to go down. They told me that it was a fluke, that it usually takes six months to make a profit. They saw the revenue, they saw the ratings, they saw everything. Ang hirap naman that we would continue and keep on losing money. Masakit naman ‘yon! You are spending big money and it’s not earning anything, and you are paying everybody pa.”

(According to Funfare sources, around 36 employees were recruited from ABS-CBN which reported to have lost some “11,000” employees due to the shutdown. “Albee was generous enough to give Brightlight employees a half-year bonus last December even if they were working for the company for only three months,” adding, “and their salaries were higher than those they were getting from ABS-CBN.” One host, paid P85,000 per appearance, made a six-month advance that amounted to a mind-boggling P1.5 million!)

“During the first season, they call it ‘cycle,’ we had to make adjustment kasi malayo ang difference between the revenue and the cost. I think the pandemic really cut down on the revenue. You cannot be producing a show and expecting that the revenue will be the same as that of the pre-pandemic. After all is said and done, ang diyos ng TV industry ay ratings. If your rating is not good, what would you do?”

Ask any businessman if he would continue financing a losing project while his company is hemorrhaging very badly and you would get the same answer. You have the money and you decide what to do with it.

“I followed everything in the contract,” stressed Albee. “The natural provision in any contract is that if a business enterprise is losing money, kapag nalulugi na and it will not recover, you try to cut the losses and save it.”

That answers Mr. M’s assertion that he was caught unaware by the sudden closure of SNL.

Brightlight will continue with the three remaining shows because, according to Albee, the budget (of each show) is three times lower than that of SNL. In the official TV5 release (about the airing of the Kapamilya shows), Brightlight was prominently mentioned. Asked if he’s partnering (kasosyo) with the joint networks, Albee said, “No, it’s just a collaboration,” since Brightlight owns the airtime until March.

Albee has opted to turn a deaf ear to whatever ranting there is, knowing that he’s the one losing big money. It’s unfair that he’s being blamed for the whole mess.

“Guess who is left holding an empty bag,” rued Albee.

(Your guess is as good as anybody’s. Albee didn’t comment on the rumor that Brightlight has lost a whopping P600 million so far! Wow, that’s big money in any denomination!)

Would he sustain Brightlight after its TV5 contract expires in March?

“Let’s wait and see,” said Albee.

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)


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