The Rise and Fall of Wowowee

And just like that, what was arguably one of the most successful, most popular, and certainly controversial Philippine programs ever is over.

ABS-CBN put the final nail in the coffin today on Wowowee (2005-2010 – Rest in Peace), the noontime variety show that not only brought hope and joy to the people of the Philippines six days a week at lunchtime, but engaged audiences around the world, Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike.

After a whirlwind two months of drama (typical of Philippine showbiz) that saw the show’s prideful host and prideful network executives clash, nasty political mud being flung, gossip trash being broadcast in print and over the airwaves, Wowowee gets an unceremonious burial this Friday. (Maybe. I wouldn’t bet on an adequate farewell though.)

It is the sudden end to what was and could have been a long run for a show that meant so much to so many. A show that did what used to be impossible. A show that didn’t deserve to be berated by competitors or besieged with unforeseen tragedies and drama.

Accomplishing What No Other Had
Wowowee managed to accomplish more than anyone could ever imagine. Philippine noontime variety/game shows would be typical of what you’d see anywhere in the world. But Wowowee did so much more. Regular people didn’t just go on the show for a few seconds and play games. They told their stories, their lives, good or bad, happy or sad, to the world.

These stories captivated the Filipino people in the Philippines and abroad. Non-Filipinos, even without understanding a single world of Tagalog, felt the honest emotions when watching with their Filipino family and friends. Filipino-American teenagers and youth, before so adverse and against anything Filipino pop culture, now dancing and singing along with the show’s music.

The biggest contributor to the success of the show was the people who took part, hoping for a chance to win prizes that could help their families, but happy enough to just be on the show and have fun.

But also a big part of that success is the show’s host Willie Revillame who connected to the masses, who treated them like they were his friends just talking about life. Someone who has enough money to step on the little people and pay them with cash twofold, actually connecting and sincerely wanting to listen and help these people who come through the studio each day.

Stories of people only being able to eat once a day, terminally ill patients having Wowowee as one of their wishes before they pass, families separated by various tragedies and circumstances reunited through the show, children as young as four and the kids at heart, the grandparents, Lolos and Lolas all performing and showing their talents to the world. You can’t find that anywhere else.

For everyone one person who loved him, there was one person that absolutely hated him. Same goes for the show, which for some reason was abhorred by the Philippines’ upper classes.

But Revillame’s infectious novelty songs and the real, emotional stories of the contestants coupled with various parlor games seemed to be the right formula that engaged millions around the world.

Filipinos abroad, wanting to feel connected to their homeland, watched Wowowee on TFC, The Filipino Channel as much as three times a day. The show so popular, the Philippine Department of Tourism declared Wowowee the #1 tourist destination in the country. Filipinos abroad, young and old, made reservations to watch the show in the studio and pay as much as $150 to watch the show on tour in the United States.

Wowowee had what other similar variety and game shows didn’t, heart. The show had the sincerity and realism of the Philippine situation that no other show did. Giving voice to the poor and helping, while giving a chance for Filipinos and non-Filipinos abroad to feel closer to home.

Moments like this…

…that show what the show is really about.

The Collapse of Wowowee
Too much drama to list here, but there has always been an air of negativity consistently being thrown at the show.

After the tragic stampede accident as the show was set to celebrate its first anniversary, elitists began using the show to criticize the country’s reliance on pipe dreams to get themselves out of poverty.

Competitors and critics of the series then continually looked for things to use to bring the show down, grasping at straws for one little mistake to blow up big enough to tarnish the show.

Despite all of that, the show survived, getting even stronger and more popular with the masses and greater population.

The network found a surprise hit late last year in Showtime as pre-programming to Wowowee and suddenly the network and the network’s fans began pitting the two against each other. The network began pulling money and resources from Wowowee to funnel into its new hit, all the focus now on the upstart instead of maintaining the first success the network had in the noontime slot in decades.

Hatred for Willie Revillame then increased after a baseless brouhaha when Revillame pointed out ABS-CBN’s negligence and poor decision making during the coverage of the death of former President Corazon Aquino. The network left Revillame and Wowowee out in the open, not stepping up to defend them after this incident and a previous scandal that erupted from a competitor’s baseless accusations.

The recent Presidential election dragged the show through the typical Filipino political mud. Wowowee being short changed by the network in resources and support and criticized with groundless and absurd accusations angered Revillame to the point of him speaking out live on the show and eventually not showing up on the show since.

Ratings took a nosedive, replacement hosts not helping, and the lack of resources becoming more evident in the show not capturing people as much as it used to.

The show went from riotous fun like this…

…to dead, boring, and insincere just a few months later.

Instead of trying to regain the show’s glory, which was a simple exercise had it not been for the egos of all those involved from hosts to network, Wowowee is dead. To be replaced by a show Pilipinas For The Win (Pilipinas FTW) Pilipinas Win na Win hosted by equally controversial personalities, but more “in” with the network heads. For The Win eh?

The Legacy of Wowowee
Wowowee didn’t deserve to go out this way. A highly controversial, yet highly successful five year history, unprecedented and unlikely to be duplicated any time soon, the show at least deserves a dignified ending.

We’ll have to wait and see Friday.

But the legacy that Wowowee leaves is an accomplished run of helping countless people, bringing happiness and joy, even if just a little while each day, to those less fortunate, connecting people worldwide, especially Filipino families abroad, and doing all of it with heart and sincerity rarely seen on Philippine TV.

It was great while it lasted. And just like that, the happiness and joy for millions around the world just disappears. You will be missed.

Wowowee at #10 on Television That Defined My Decade

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