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Entertainment versus news

By CHAY FLORENTINO-HOFILEÑA

Shalani Soledad sang a respectable duet with TV5’s miracle worker Willie Revillame last Tuesday, November 16. And she showed off more flesh in her sleeveless mini, a far cry from her First Communion virginal white dress which she wore on her debut a week before.

The day after, a story on how she was not falling for her rabble-rouser of a co-host Willie Revillame landed among the front-page teasers of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Obviously, TV5 is stretching and trying to capitalize on her still hidden talents. They are praying to the heavens perhaps that there are many more to be disclosed in strategic installments to a public eager to figure out why the President and this seemingly perfect lady didn’t last.

Ever since Shalani’s entry to the dizzying world of entertainment last November 8, “Willing Willie” (WW) overtook ABS-CBN’s flagship newscast, “TV Patrol” (TVP). Looking at AGB Nielsen Mega Manila figures, WW spiked from 9.2% on Friday to 11.6% that memorable Monday. For the five-day workweek (November 8-12), however, it averaged ratings of 11% compared to “24 Oras’s” 11.84% and TVP’s 9.8%.

In the previous workweek (November 1-5, before Shalani), “24 Oras” averaged 12.26%, followed by TVP with 9.96%, and WW with 8.7%.

A scrutiny of the Mega Manila ratings (see graph) which these three programs registered from the time WW was launched on October 23 to the entry of Shalani on November 8, all the way to November 16, Tuesday, tells us the following:

• All things being considered, “24 Oras” has managed to stave off the encroachment of entertainment on its weekday evening primetime. In fact, even after the launch of WW, the newscasts of both GMA7 and ABS-CBN kept their loyal audiences and maintained their lead over this commercial game show masquerading as a public affairs show.

•  On Saturdays, when most viewers want to unwind and relax after a grueling workweek, WW reigns and grabs the lead from both newscasts (WW does not air on Sundays).

Shalani Soledad. (Photo from www.ofwnow.com)

Shalani Soledad. (Photo from www.ofwnow.com)

• WW is an exciting and innovative experiment insofar as programming is concerned. It is eating into the ratings of TVP during evening primetime and is challenging the supremacy of “24 Oras.” Question is, will it work over the long-term?

• Pre-Shalani, depending on how one wants to interpret the numbers, Willie Revillame was already a gadfly to his former network, hovering close by TVP but never quite able to overtake it. Until Shalani came along.

• Those expecting WW to continually zoom up after gaining momentum from Shalani’s entry were in for a disappointment as the show did not pull away dramatically and was instead hobbled by occasional dips.

• ABS-CBN is being adversely affected by Shalani in WW, and not by WW per se. Besides strengthening its newscast, it will have to wait for the Shalani magic to wear off. Whether bringing back Noli de Castro and Korina Sanchez was a great idea is debatable, given the ratings we’re seeing thus far. Only the benefit of hindsight will determine this, as some would argue that the network’s ratings could have been further marginalized without the tandem’s entry, while others would insist that the two brought with them not much capital.

Both news and entertainment play crucial roles in a people’s advancement. Too much slapstick and low-level entertainment makes for passive and less critical thinkers. Too much negativity and cynicism in news destroys a people’s ability to take pride in themselves and their country.

The invasion of evening primetime by an entertainment show is alarming to most journalists who have always been secure in the thought that this timeslot was reserved for news. The success of WW over news could start the trend toward the further erosion of news and public affairs shows that are genuinely motivated by public service. Its success would spell the triumph of commercialism over the desire to preserve the role of news as informant, educator, and builder of communities. If news loses its hold over primetime, who else will watch it?

If I were a journalist working in TV5, I would be challenged to reclaim the timeslot that has traditionally been allotted to news. I cannot take pride in my network’s ratings rising on account of an entertainment show that is far from uplifting. To journalists in both GMA and ABS-CBN, the challenge is the same: to prove that substance and content is superior to mindless entertainment.

In a very weird sense, the public could benefit from “Willing Willie.” Newsbreak, independent journalism from the Philippines

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