COME noontime, variety shows indubitably rule the boob tube. Like rice, shows such as Wowowee and Eat Bulaga! have become staples of the lunch ritual, promising hungry viewers savory entertainment that’s sure to suit anyone’s palate. However, for these shows, too much competition for ratings runs the risk of compromising quality, not to mention compromising values.

In many instances, since these noontime variety shows have metamorphosed into nothing but game shows featuring multimillion jackpots, they have been accused of promoting the culture of begging among the general masses of Filipinos who are poor.

For countless of poor Filipinos, these shows could be the answer to their prayers to be pulled out of poverty’s quagmire. Little do they know that they have greater chances of being struck by lighting rather than winning the jackpot.

Have daily noontime variety shows really gone overboard? Have they become unsavory like spoiled lunch?

It appears that gaining a higher audience share has become top priority for television shows. Various stratagems have been employed by noontime variety programs, including featuring scantly clad female dancers and even the hiring of midgets, putting under the spotlight the likes of Mahal, Mura, and Dagul, whose physical deformities have become the viewers’ objects of ridicule.

The most successful strategy, however, is raising the prize money of the games of chance. It all started with Eat Bulaga!, aired on GMA; it offered a P1 million jackpot in its Laban o Bawi portion. The defunct Masayang Tanghali Bayan (MTB), on the rival station ABS-CBN, did not allow itself to be left behind and increased to P2 million the jackpot in its Pera o Bayong game. Eat Bulaga! followed suit.

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When Wowowee succeeded MTB in 2005, it put up a stiff competition with Eat Bulaga! and it has been a see-saw battle battle between the two shows since.

The mass hysteria generated by the games of chance was brutally illustrated by the infamous Wowowee stampede in Ultra in February 2006, in which several people were crushed to death by a massive crowd that had come for the anniversary celebration of the show, lured as they were by promises of winning the special anniversary prizes. ABS-CBN removed the show from the air, and people had thought it was the end of Wowowee and games of chance.

But network bosses restored the show later in the year, and the show came back with a vengeance, with more thrilling and generous games of chance that nearly eclipsed those of Eat Bulaga’s. Needless to say, the games by the two shows have only served to fuel the hopes of millions of poor Filipinos of hitting the big time. In short, the culture of mendicancy has been further entrenched.

It seems that the games of chance peddled by these shows have served merely to expose what is ugly and crass about noontime variety shows.

When Wowowee introduced recently a new game, Wilyonaryo (a portmanteau of the show’s host, Willie Revillame, and “milyonarno”), an alleged oversight by the show’s host aroused suspicion that there was tampering with the results. Although no formal complaint was filed against the show, hosts in the rival Eat Bulaga! insinuated there was an irregularity.

Comedian Joey de Leon, a host of Eat Bulaga!, urged the Senate to conduct an investigation, similar to the one the chamber did on the “Hello Garci!” scandal, referring to alleged wiretapped phone conversations between President Macapagal-Arroyo and Comelec official Virgilio Garcillano (the “Garci” in the tapes) talking about how to rig the 2004 elections.

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De Leon said that the Senate should also investigate the “Hello Pappy! scandal,” alluding to Revillame’s nickname, “Pappy.”

The crass exchange between the two shows was cited by TV critics and observers as another low point for television, and the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board later stopped the two shows from trading accusations and “to stick to entertainment.”

But perhaps in behaving so crassly on the air, the noontime show hosts were doing just that– “sticking to entertainment.” How does one explain that, instead of issuing a statement to clarify the alleged tampering, Revillame appeared before cameras and broke up in tears, accusing De Leon and his co-hosts of being holier than thou? “Akala mo malinis ka! (It’s as if you’re not tainted yourself!),” Revillame said, apparently referring to De Leon.

Isn’t all of this “entertainment”? But seriously, the MTRCB has a point,

As noontime shows become more like game shows, they have more and more abandoned the staples of entertainment, such as the talent search. Gone are the days of Little Miss Philippines, Princess Asia, Calendar Girls, and Mr. Pogi. Such searches were the training ground for budding entertainers such as Aiza Seguerra, Allan K, and Jericho Rosales.

Grating ratings

Moreover, noontime variety shows seem to have forgotten that since they are primed for lunchtime, which is the time the general masses come to lunch and share meals together, they basically cater to families. In short, they are supposed to be family-oriented shows,

But Eat Bulaga! and Wowowee are hardly family-oriented. In many instances, they seem to cater to adults looking for after-work pastime in girly bars and cabarets.

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Both De Leon and Revillame have time and again been reprimanded or suspended by the MTRCB due to complaints of making sexual innuendoes and double-meaning jokes and songs.

Both of their shows also employ women dancers–and sometimes homosexual entertainers–in skimpy, “barely naked” outfits.

Ironically, both ABS-CBN and GMA claim to be “kapamilya” (kin) and “kapuso” (intimate), respectively, in their institutional ads. Both networks claim to be family-oriented.

But what’s so family-oriented about games of chance that deepen the Filipino poor’s culture of mendicancy and quick fixes? What’s so family-oriented about bawdy jokes and sexual innuendoes that are better made and heard in the boys’ locker room or shower rather than on the air? What’s family-oriented with the race to ratings supremacy, come what may, come hell or high water?

Definitely, things must change with the way noontime shows and networks run their programs, lest they become like stale rice, and people will vomit them out of their mouths. Juanito Alipio A. de la Rosa

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