Since we are already at the topic of resuscitation and resurrection, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a Balikbayan friend who was home for the holidays.
For the record, my friend is not exactly one of those Filipinos in North America who foists his American accent as if he were trying out to be a customer service representative. He is amusing in his brand of being makabayan and wary of what he calls the Filipinos' fashionable nationalism. He does not think that wearing a shirt with the map of the Philippine embroidered and emblazoned for accent qualifies as somebody being truly proud of being born of the island republic. More so, he is one of those who can be quite candid (and blunt) to say that mouthing Ninoy and Cory Aquino lines does not equip one to talk of Pinoy politics like a true history major. I give him that space and respect.
My balikbayan friend insists that his objective distance --- of living the American West Coast --- gives him a clearer picture what is happening back here without all the frills of emotions and media embellishments. He makes it quite clear to his friends that he is not foisting moral or cultural superiority: he is the first to shudder at the sight, smell and sound of Pinoy Americans who think that their US citizenship or green cards qualify them to look down on the natives who have opted to slug it out in the seven thousand islands.
As a matter of fact, my balikbayan friend is very careful not to step on the toes of those who might presume that he has become overbearing or arrogant just because he flies back after every so many years to spend the holidays with his remaining relatives in Manila. He has also been extraordinarily tactful when he talked to me about his observations regarding commercial television in the country, wary that I might take personal offense because I am still an active practitioner.
But his point was lucid and valid: why is commercial television obsessed with remakes or adaptation of materials from various media?
At first he expressed his discomfort about various prime time soap operas (now known as teleseryes or telenovelas) being remakes of the series produced and shown in the seventies to the early nineties. He was aghast at the thought that the substantial chunk of prime time television viewing has already been eaten up by shows that run half an hour for five times a week. This leaves practically no room for programs of other genres to be savored during the height of viewing hours.
I explained to him that this was the kind of horizontal programming we eventually inherited from the Latin America and Korea. There was Thalia in the original Marimar to blame for this --- most especially when such shows were lifted for early to late afternoon time slots and placed right smack into prime time (that usually runs from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM on weekdays). As a result of this move on the part of the major networks, other genres like the situation comedy and the variety shows have been shoved back to much later time slots (which led to their eventual deaths) or to weekends where the audience share can be described as far weaker and less stable.
He said that that his did not leave much room for variety considering that most of the telenovelas are adaptations as if network executives no longer trusted their pool of writers to come up with ingenious and original materials. I could not argue with him regarding that. Indeed, networks have resorted to excavating the enormous baol of old movies, tweaking and stretching them so that the stories can be re-narrated in the form of the long and emotionally tedious soaps.
Worse, my Balikbayan friend noted, were the attempts to Filipinize Latin and Korean telenovelas into so-called local versions. He said he found this insulting for it suggested that the platoons of tv writers and creative agents have resorted to merely using the popular template of a pre-sold material to throw into the market. Did this mean that network executives no longer trusted the originality that can come from the imagination of their homegrown talents? Did this imply that all we can do is merely copy under the license of adaptation because we have grown creatively bankrupt?
I explained to him that although this is what it seemed, he already provided the reasons behind management's decision to resort of adaptations. Yes, the shows are already pre-sold. There is already a sense of recall and familiarity on the part of the audience thereby facilitating its promotions. Moreover, the public already knows the outcome of the series ---- so the imagination of the creative staff comes in while trying to make something fresh out of what may be a beaten path.
But my friend remained unimpressed. He said that this was an obvious cop-out. In the same manner that old movies from Regal, Seiko and Viva are being pulled out of the vaults to be remodeled as television series, there is really nothing original that is airing on tv nowadays. If they are not the melodramas that became extremely popular in the eighties and nineties, then these are the small screen reinterpretations of the works of Carlo Caparas, Pablo Gomez and other komiks writers who have also lent their works to movies before.
Again I said there was nothing basically wrong with that --- considering that this gives an opportunity for the younger audiences to get to know the works of these giants of the komiks world who would have otherwise been buried through the overload of available entertainment in the internet.
Besides, I pointed out to my friend, television makes no pretenses about being nothing more than a business. Everything boils down to the dog-eat-dog world of grabbing as much audience share as possible. In a highly competitive field, it is the numbers that dictate the rules of the game and not the lofty intentions --- that include uplifting the taste of the audience.
And this was when my friend became a tad too vicious: he agreed that there is indeed nothing wrong with business calling the shots. But there must be something very wrong when, after so many decades, commercial television in this country has not grown in terms of its approach and content and even in its world view. He cited the addiction to soap operas which he deplored as a cure-all for national frustration, a manner of reinforcing to the masses that suffering is good because it ennobles and that life will eventually even itself out because the righteous will always prevail. "And you know that isn't true," he said.
He went on by saying that after all these years it is the same stories told over and over again. I argued with him saying that throughout the world the same stories are told and retold in a manner that befits the social and political climate of the time. Then that was when he hit me with the question: "Why? Has there been any change in the way stories are told in this countries in the 1980s from the way they are being narrated now? Obviously, more money is spent, there is greater technical savvy but it is the same-old same-old said in the same-old same-old way all over again."
Then as a final wallop, he said, "Judy Ann Santos and Gladys Reyes are still very much alive and kicking and they are already doing a remake of Mara Clara only making it look like Gossip Girl. OK, convince me that we have evolved and improved, Joey Reyes."
I did not want to argue any further. I would like to think that since he did not belong to the industry, that he did not know the real score about the way things are done here ... and, worse, he has ceased from having his heart and ear on the ground to know the pulse of the Filipino audiences today. Yes, he is right: there are so many talented young writers just waiting for the opportunity to bring to life their original works. Some may be even suffering adapting materials that they do not believe in ... but they have their bills to pay. And, as the saying goes, if the kitchen gets too hot for you, the door is always wide open for you to step out and ... do what?
I found it pointless to tell my friend that soap operas continue to persist and subsist because this is what the audiences want: networks only respond to the dictates of market trends. But then again, I know that he will harp on that age-old argument that those who are in a position to uplift the taste and educate the masa have betrayed their responsibilities and opted to for the easy way out. He would insist that there is a seeming atrophy in the quality and variety of television programs because the powers that be have used and abused the imperative of business at the expense of social responsibility.
In a way, he is right. But that is the ideal world. That is the perfect world. And whether we gravitate around the magic of the world of media, life ... and the world itself ... was never meant to be perfect.