Philippine entertainment giant ABS-CBN had a massive hit in the drama series May Bukas Pa (There is Still Tomorrow) last year about a young orphaned boy who speaks to Jesus and is given the power to heal.
The weekday drama was a ratings powerhouse and cultural phenomenon. In a religious country like the Philippines where almost 93% of the population is Christian, it isn’t that surprising that a soap opera with religious themes would resonate with the people.
But it was never expected to be the huge hit it was. Originally ordered for a three-month run, the series was extended numerous times until it ended exactly a year after its premiere. The network certainly didn’t expect it to be a huge hit, especially judging from its rushed production to premiere and its soft launch with almost no fanfare.
While other programs on the network’s primetime line-up enjoyed casts with the hottest stars and numerous months-long cross-promo activities on the network, May Bukas Pa premiered with a then unknown young actor Zaijan Jaranilla as the main character of Santino.
Despite the lack of hype and promo, May Bukas Pa eventually came out a winner and helped the network regain its footing in the ratings. And it made a star out of the young hero.
This should be déjà vu for the network though because in 2007 an almost similar scenario happened. Maria Flordeluna was a series about an 11-year old girl who wanted nothing more than to keep her family happy and together amidst tragedy.
It premiered with no hype and starred a young Eliza Pineda, who at the time had been part of the network’s kiddie gag show and appeared as the younger version of the “big” stars in various projects. Despite good reviews, the series was viciously criticized by the network’s fans for occupying a timeslot that could be better served with a soap opera starring some of the more popular matinee idols instead of a show about some little girl.
Maria Flordeluna was shipped all over the primetime schedule, yet maintained its audience whether it aired at the prime family slot at 7:45pm or in the too-late 10:00pm slot. When the series finally settled back into the early evening (and still with no promo support), its audience grew and grew, but not before the network had already set a finale date.
As the story wound down, the ratings continued growing, the only series on the network to be doing so. So the show was extended week after week until its record-breaking series finale. The last five weeks of Maria Flordeluna saw the first time in a long time an ABS-CBN program had beaten its competitor. The finale was the highest rated program nationwide since nationwide ratings started being measured a few years before.
And now back to the present. Last month, ABS-CBN premiered Agua Bendita. The series was developed mainly to launch new young actress Andi Eigenmann. She did the promo for the series (along with her two leading men) and was basically the face of the series in the weeks leading up to the premiere.
Agua Bendita tells the story of twins, one born normal, the other born with a unique physical defect. As is common in Philippine soap operas, backstories involving the childhood of the main characters fill the premiere week before they magically grow up and become the big idol stars.
This should’ve been déjà vu for ABS-CBN, but to their absolute shock, the series debuted to huge ratings, maintained the audience and introduced a new worldwide sweetheart.
Like the country and Filipinos abroad fell in love with little Zaijan on May Bukas Pa, just as many people fell in love with the young twins Agua and Bendita, both played by Xyriel Anne Manabat. To understand just how easily one can fall in love and be in awe of how good this little girl is, just know that Bendita is the meanest, most spoiled brat ever while Agua is the sweetest, most caring, most diligent and helpful little girl ever. Young Xyriel plays both characters so convincingly.
Audiences, absolutely enamored.
So the usual one week kiddie backstory is now so far reaching a month. Tabloids are reporting the young starlet who was supposed to be launched with the series is itching to get her famous on (and that’s a whole other post).
But more importantly, what do these three series have in common?
Maria Flordeluna, May Bukas Pa, and now Agua Bendita, all ratings and audience winners, show that good shows with younger lead stars can resonate just as well if not more than a good looking 22 year old actor or actress. Throw in 2005’s highly rated Mga Anghel na Walang Langit whose cast was 95% under 12 years old and you’ve got a television premise you can’t lose with.
Despite the success of “young bidas” or young heroes, it seems ABS-CBN still doesn’t see it. The PR nightmare that looms around the extension of little Xyriel on Agua Bendita could’ve been avoided if ABS-CBN had the foresight (and hindsight!) to see just how successful and profitable (which is no doubt #1 priority) shows like that can be.
The little Agua and Bendita storyline was meant for a week or two at most, now ABS-CBN might be stupid to let her grow up (and they’ve been debating it apparently).
Audiences are looking for good family entertainment. Shows that don’t involve couples being broken apart by obsessed, bordering on clinically insane lovers, kidnappings every other week, shootouts, crime syndicates… basically any other show on Philippine TV these days.
ABS-CBN has been afraid of gambling on little stars, yet look at the track record the last few years.
So hopefully by now ABS-CBN has gotten the viewers’ message. Don’t be afraid of little kids. They might just be your biggest money maker.
And good for the family too!