It has been absolutely fascinating to watch Willie Revillame’s modified Tutok to Win fill-in for the regular Wowowin show. What started out as a simple online livestream has become what could be a template for what live television entertainment could look like for the foreseeable future.
Community quarantine was declared for the main island of Luzon in the Philippines on March 16th, essentially forcing all television production to shut down. Networks like ABS-CBN and GMA turned to reruns of old soap operas while TV5 turned to hourly news updates to fill their schedules.
On March 26, Willie Revillame began livestreaming from his resort in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro where he had been stranded due to the halt in travel around the country. Wanting to continue helping people even when his own show was in reruns as well, Willie used the online show to call viewers at home. Each called viewer would get at least P5000 for answering random questions about the rerun being broadcast on TV, hence the title Tutok to Win (“Watch to Win”).
But Willie was able to return to Manila and the decision was made, in conjunction with GMA Network, to take the online show to television and air in Wowowin‘s regular early evening timeslot in lieu of reruns.
The April 13th show was the first to air live simultaneously online and on-air on GMA Network (and worldwide on GMA Pinoy TV).
And it was a technical mess:
Essentially continuing what they had been doing for the last few weeks from Puerto Galera, Wowowin‘s Zoom-powered Tutok to Win didn’t seem ready for television.
But literally overnight, that Zoom conference call turned into what has now become a full-fledged show on its own. And it could conceivably become a template for future programs across the dial.
It’s a wonder how they’ve been able to put everything together, especially on short notice and with scarce resources. But the Tutok to Win broadcasts have rivaled even regular programming in terms of production.
Production-wise, Wowowin is an outlier for GMA Network. GMA has long been resistant to modern production standards, for some inexplicable reason. But starting Thursday, Wowowin was being streamed in full HD on YouTube. A shocking, but welcome development from GMA Network who still uploads videos in 480p or even letterboxed and/or stretched.
And again, considering this has been a quick turnaround, it is a wonder they are able to churn out a reasonably high quality show during this uncertain time.
While on Monday they continued to apparently use the internet to stream their show, on Tuesday Willie touted the arrival of “microwaves” to beam the live show instead. Now broadcasting using traditional equipment and methods, Wowowin looked more and more like a show in a normal time rather than in the era of the coronavirus.
The makeshift studio at Willie’s Wil Tower is a feat in and of itself. It looks like the set of an American late-night talk show. And Willie feels much at home in the unique format. He’s almost making the case for him to get his own late-night show. He’s even exchanged his usual casual shirts for a blazer and button down shirt.
Willie thrives in his signature in-the-round studios that date back to Wowowee on ABS-CBN through his various shows on TV5 and now on Wowowin on GMA. The rowdy audiences seem to always feed him energy. The raucous atmosphere is contagious. And I can say that with confidence from my two experiences being in the Wowowee studio audience many, many years ago.
But the COVID-19 crisis has obviously disrupted the status quo. And Wowowin, like its fellow variety shows, are unable to broadcast as usual.
Simple on the Surface
This Tutok to Win format is admittedly very simple. Willie calls people at home, asks them random questions and gives them P10,000 or more.
Since making the transition to Wil Tower and a live GMA broadcast, they’ve added other segments and simple games. There’s a “Search Quarant” segment where families submit videos of themselves singing, dancing and whatever talent they want to showcase for a chance at some cash.
They’ve also welcomed musical guests like Rita Daniela, 4th Impact, Derrick Monasterio and Sheryn Regis. And not them singing to their phones from home. They are live, in-person in the makeshift studio. (How that’s even possible, I have no clue.)
Other games include a shell game using bowls and a coin and having viewers choose one of three branded cups containing P10,000 to P30,000.
In the previous incarnation of Tutok to Win from Puerto Galera, Willie even interviewed public health officials, elected officials and others via video call. And since arriving back in Manila, Willie has mentioned possibly even interviewing President Duterte during show.
Willie has been known for some outbursts on his formerly-live shows, which is rumored to be one of the reasons why he has yet to go live on GMA Network save for a January show on his birthday to benefit victims of the Taal volcano eruption.
But that’s perhaps another part of the appeal of these Tutok to Win shows. Willie is admittedly even more fun to watch when not heavily edited as Wowowin typically is. The current format is simple enough that it allows for it to be very loose. There’s no script. I doubt there’s even any rules. And yet it somehow works well.
This fascinating mix of parlor games, late-night talk show and public service program has been surprisingly enjoyable and fun. There’s even a live band to complete the late-night talk show effect. And Willie’s even regularly referenced the Philippines’ best-known late night host Jojo Alejar all week.
Though far removed from the Wowowin everyone has come to know, it is possible Tutok to Win is a sign of things to come.
A Look Into the Future?
For Philippine entertainment, it is conceivable television production won’t return to normal for many months yet. And as seen in reopening strategies in other countries, easing quarantine restrictions still involve continuing strict social distancing rules. That means you won’t be seeing packed studios full of audience members for a long time.
That makes Wowowin‘s unexpected shift to this Tutok to Win format somewhat immediate-future-proof. While other live variety and game shows (including the regular Wowowin format) need an audience to function, Willie’s Tutok to Win is already in production and can seamlessly continue for the foreseeable future without such needs.
At a time when even American television productions are being forced to resort to videoconferencing to put together everything from news programs to talk shows to even American Idol, that Wowowin has been able to do produce a show that looks like it could’ve easily come together in a non-COVID-19 environment is a major accomplishment.
Willie Revillame ended Friday’s show with a message urging Filipinos to follow the quarantine guidelines in order to hasten the return to normalcy. It came after he became visibly emotional from a video montage of Filipino frontliners unable to hug or even come close to their family members at home, careful about wanting to keep them safe.
It was a raw, visceral moment that only a live, unscripted program like this could produce.
And it was that closing moment that seemed to solidify what Wowowin‘s Tutok to Win means.
A Little Bit of Hope
As the only new and live non-news program, it’s a venue that allows such impassioned pleas from a celebrity like Willie Revillame reach Filipinos across the country. As a game show, it gives lucky families a bit of extra cash at a time when being cooped up at home means having to scrape by on even less resources than usual. As entertainment, the banter between Willie and the people he calls as well as the one or two song numbers from guest performers give that extra bit of levity.
The slick, crisp high definition production and broadcast is also a particularly shocking, but welcome aspect as well.
But most of all, Wowowin‘s Tutok to Win provides an interesting bit of hope.
Moving forward, can local programs or even networks around the world take on the model set by Wowowin‘s Tutok to Win to try and provide some sense of familiarity?
For now, this unique modification of a familiar title like Wowowin serves as one of the very few tastes of normalcy at a time with much uncertainty. And perhaps also an example of making the most of and providing fun and comfort during what would otherwise seem like a hopeless and unending situation.