From Wowowee to Wowowillie – The End of an Era on Philippine Television… Again

It’s like déjà vu. Three years after Wowowee was unceremoniously killed on live television by ABS-CBN, here we are again as another Willie Revillame-hosted noontime show is set to go off the air.

Though with considerably less drama and without the hateful vitriol that surrounded Wowowee‘s demise in 2010, Wowowillie coming to an end on TV5 marks what could be the real end of an era on Philippine television.

Who knows when or where another show fronted by Willie Revillame or one that invites common Filipino people on six days a week will pop up in the future.

What is certain is that these last eight years have changed Philippine television forever. Whether for good or for bad depends on who you ask. But for this article, I will posit that indeed, Wowowee and its TV5 iterations have left a positive, though controversial, legacy.

A Simple Premise, A Surprising Success
No one ever expected Wowowee to become as huge as it did. One of its biggest accomplishments had to be not only challenging, but topping the then-reigning king of Philippine noontime TV, Eat Bulaga.

Since the long running show moved to GMA Network, ABS-CBN struggled (and still does) to find a show that would successfully and legitimately challenge in the noontime slot. That is, until Wowowee broke through.

A simple game show that invited Filipinos from all walks of life to take a chance to win prizes and enjoy themselves for three hours a day. Whether it was telling your life story before performing a talent or lining up on colored lights with the hopes to picking a basket that contained a million pesos, Wowowee seemed to resonate.

The series’ success came about in a slow, but steady climb. And when it officially achieved success, it was undeniable. Aside from the obvious proof in the ratings and long lines to audition and attend the show, Wowowee became a show that crossed borders and cultures.

At its peak, Wowowee was so popular it was hailed as the #1 tourist destination in the Philippines by the Department of Tourism. Insane to think about, but very much true. Filipinos from around the world clamoring to reserve seats at the show as part of their balikbayan itinerary. American ambassadors regularly visiting and even non-Filipinos drawn to the fun of the show.

And its success was not limited to the 7,107 islands. Filipinos around the world would pay to watch Wowowee‘s international shows. The show drew record breaking crowds at San Francisco’s Civic Center.

And an example of how Wowowee managed to resonate with even Filipino-American youth. 2007. My Tagalog 1 class at the University of San Francisco. Our final project was to create a video slideshow introducing our families in Tagalog. So, I decided to include this little clip from our trip to the Philippines earlier that year:

As soon as this short clip began playing in my video, to my surprise, the entire class actually joined in and even did the signature “boom boom boom” dance move. Now, it is important to note that the majority of the class couldn’t even understand the simplest Filipino, let alone would be ones that would regularly watch The Filipino Channel.

And yet they knew the song. And they knew the show. And had no qualms about letting anyone else know that they knew.

Willie Revillame, the Lightning Rod
But while Wowowee enjoyed great success, it and its TV5 iterations also suffered several controversies.

Some of those controversies were unfortunate and tragic accidents. Others were calculated machinations by rivals hoping to bring the show and its host down.

But to be fair, Willie Revillame is not without his faults. (And who in Philippine showbiz isn’t?) His entirely avoidable on-air rants would unnecessarily punctuate otherwise jolly proceedings. Many of those impromptu rants warranted and with good intention, others just needless public expressions of frustration.

But there were always accusations of “using” the poor to make himself look good or somehow better than everyone else.

It is fascinating to think about how highly regarded Willie Revillame was at ABS-CBN. So much so that he was the original host of Pinoy Big Brother and the face of the network’s international brand. And then see how he and the show that greatly benefited said network was unceremoniously taken off the air.

The show went from spontaneous fun like this…

…to nasty politicking and mud slinging.

While millions became fans of his, there was (and is) a very loud opposition to him as well.

There is a habit of negativity getting thrown to overly successful people. And that’s not exclusive to the Philippines.

So Willie Revillame is a millionaire. He buys yachts and jets and luxury cars. But he’s pretty much funded his own show the last three years and took it upon himself to fund Wowowee back when ABS-CBN slowly withdrew their support. One could say he’s so starved for attention that he will spend his own money to get himself on the air.

But couldn’t he find a less stressful way than to have to mingle with the poor every day? To bother himself with lower class people?

Sure, Willie splurges on himself and his close friends. But he’s also given plenty to the less fortunate through his shows. Whether it be cash and prizes or just a few hours to laugh every day.

He may not appeal to the 18-49 demo or to the people who wouldn’t step near a Jollibee. But he appeals to the “masa,” the masses. It wasn’t as if anyone was forcing people to watch any of the shows. And yet, there were always people who felt that if they didn’t like the shows or their hosts, that no one else should have the opportunity to enjoy it either.

A strangely negative connotation has been placed on “masa.” For Filipino netizens, it is usually used as a slight. That somehow, something that is “pang-masa” is low class and worthless.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth, especially in a country where the less fortunate vastly outnumber the privileged.

For shows like Wowowee and Wowowillie and the two shows in between, it was the greater Filipino population that gave them success. And in turn, the shows and Willie Revillame himself gave sincere attention to those people in return.

When hosts of other shows are indifferent or more concerned about making themselves the stars, Wowowee et al. devoted the majority of its time to the “masa.” Giving them a little hope and a little joy for a few hours a day.

A criticism of the show was that it perpetuated a sort of false hope and taught poor Filipinos to be solely dependent on game shows. That the show was guilty of exploitation and punishable by law.


Do you think these Lolos and Lolas are being forced to act this way?

Those are sincere emotions.

Unlike other shows and, really, politicians, Wowowee et al. didn’t purport to solve the country’s poverty troubles. A house and lot or a million pesos is certainly life changing, but never singular answers.

In creating the TV5 versions of Wowowee Willie Revillame wisely kept what made the original so successful; listening to the stories of the everyday Filipino. The well off may not be interested in hearing such stories, but the “masa” were, as well as overseas Filipinos wanting to get a picture of home through the true stories of people instead of the stylized soap operas.

TV5’s limited reach and the engrained duopoly/two-network only mindset of the Filipino audience may be the biggest reasons Wowowillie may not have been the success Wowowee was. The powers that be at TV5 may not believe in Wowowillie any longer, but it and the two shows that preceded it at the very least gave three more formerly improbable years of hope and joy to the people.

More Good Memories Than Bad
Ultimately, while the antis will only think of stampedes or unfounded cheating scandals, others will remember eight years of harmless fun and heartrending stories.

Wowowee, Willing Willie, Wil Time Big Time and Wowowillie had what other similar variety and game shows didn’t, heart. The shows had the sincerity and realism of the Filipino situation that no other show, especially noontime show, does or did. Giving voice to the poor and helping them, while giving a chance for Filipinos and non-Filipinos abroad to feel closer to home.

Moments like this…

…are what these shows were really about.

As of this weekend, all this will disappear from Philippine television. There is no guarantee any of this will ever return. And even if it did, there is no certainty that it would ever be the same. But the legacy of Wowowee and the three shows that followed it won’t soon be forgotten. One can always hope that one day, the voice of the regular Filipino people can get a chance to be heard on Philippine TV once again.

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