Telenovela Killed the Film Star (Then Went On To Save Television)

It’s no secret that show business is a dirty, dirty world. Or, for that matter, television. I greatly admire friends who are in television and somehow manage to not get involved in the sleaziness of it all. It’s hard keep some semblance of an integrity intact with everything going on being driven by the need to cough out a buck from the public.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I am a firm believer in the power of television. Though I fancy myself to be critical-minded, popular culture is so prevalent I cannot imagine living without it. Even folks in the remotest provinces are not immune from it, their transistor radios adorned with photos of the hottest artista, tuned in to the latest pop song brought to them by the latest brand of detergent designed to expunge the stingiest stain. Even communist rebels are daily tuned in to news, spliced in between hearing Deo Macalma bitch about the traffic and the hottest Pia Guanio chika in the news show’s radio version. Indeed, even revolutionaries cannot escape popular culture.

There is a geniune need in me that popular culture provides. Sometimes, that is a feeling of community, of having to share with the rest of the public stories and tunes that we feel strongly enough about. Sometimes it is the feeling of empowerment in being privy to some intimate details about the rich, the powerful and the famous. Everybody knows about Kris Aquino’s problems with men, with her siblings, with her uber-religious ex-president mother, or with her autistic child Joshua who Kris once accidently run over with her car. Kris Aquino is beyond opinion: she’s part of us – like a sexual harassing, drunkard uncle or for that matter, an autistic sibling – whether we like it or not.

Much of popular culture feels exactly like how I feel about Kris: utterly inescapable, like a fart clogging your nosetrils while you’re inside an cramped, windowless room.

Thing is, though, there are rare moments when you feel glad about all these, as if one whiff of fresh scent would make up for that stinking fart in the cramped, windowless room. Angel Locsin, to me, has been that rare moment. Before all the brouhaha about her leaving GMA-7, she was the hottest star of all, starring in one hit telenovela after another (soaps being the ultimate starmakers today – which reminds me: that 1979 Buggle song needs a Pinoy update: “Telenovela killed the Film Star”). Then, just at the height of her stardom, she drops a big project (Marimar, insiders say, was created especially for Angel), draws the ire of network executives, and signs up with a rival network.

Thus sucking her and all of us into a whirlwind of bad publicity. Suddenly, Angel Locsin “scandals” flood Quiapo and other pirate bays. She becomes the center of chismis (“buntis, kaya nag-London”, etc). And in a slew of shallow, negative stories that threaten the credibility of television journalism forever, Angel’s image is transformed from that of a sweet network angel to that of a lying, villainous snake (don’t know, though, what it is about snakes that connotes treachery).

Why did she switch networks? Why leave a lucrative career in GMA-7 where she started out in the first place and which, as its network executives repeatedly pointed out, invested so heavily in her? In an interview with Pia Guanio in Startalk, Angel’s erstwhile program manager, I forgot her name, related her bitterness in seeing Angel leave GMA-7 because they were the first to put faith in her bankability even when she was a nobody. “Walang utang na loob” is a phrase being used a lot to refer to the actress nowadays.

I can’t say I’m not surprised at this reaction. Yes, we all know about how they gambled on Angel, but how about the booty? The Guazons and the Duavits probably profitted much more from Angel than Angel profitted from GMA-7. Angel’s telenovelas consistently topped the ratings, thereby flooding Siyete with advertisements and enabling its marketing department to considerably hike up its ad rates. Hence, a lot of money for the network, and possibly the title of the top TV network in town. Angel, in return, got her five-year contract which was, I presume, pegged at the actress’ worth five years ago, before Mulawin, Darna, Majika, and Asian Treasures, and has a new house-and-lot (Manny Villar got her a discount for the lot) and a Hummer to show for it.

Angel is no saint, I’m sure, and money played a considerable role in her decision to switch networks. There’s nothing shocking there. But what really interested me is why Angel left Siyete where she could probably get an equally substantial amount of money. People close to her disclose her newfound disliking for showing some skin. In Marimar, she would have had to do that a lot. A short encounter with Angel gave me the impression that she did not like to be bossed around, that she was one tough momma. Marimar, in contrast, is a nutcase, a dim-witted barrio lass who is desired by a lot of men and talks to her dog. Angel is said to have sworn off posing for men’s mags (and, in return, got booted out of the No. 1 spot of FHM’s sexiest), and reportedly threw a tantrum when Asian Treasures writers wrote a part in the show where she had to wear a bikini.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? This, of course, is surely bad news for all salivating, testosterone-driven men, but good news for Angel herself. She has started to take herself seriously, conscious of the enormous power and influence she wields as an artista on television. “Di porke artista wala nang alam,” she once said to me in an interview (that was a short, one-time interview haha). We need role models, but we need people with guts, too, who can stand up to their networks and place their reputations and fortunes at stake for something they truly believed in.

She may still be a work in progress, but if she keeps this up she may be the best thing that has ever happened to corporate entertainment television.


One thought on “Telenovela Killed the Film Star (Then Went On To Save Television)

  1. Pingback: On surreal mornings and political education « Reportage, etc.

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