October 11, 2013. (October 12, Philippine Time) I posted the appreciation article entitled “From Wowowee to Wowowillie – The End of an Era on Philippine Television… Again”. It was the day of the last airing of Wowowillie on TV5. And it appears today could be the end of another era. And potentially the beginning of a new one?
As I wrote back then, it felt like it was the end of an era since there was no guarantee a Willie Revillame-hosted show would ever be seen on television again. At least, not in the format that had first began with Wowowee on ABS-CBN. But less than two years later, the unexpected (yet somehow not surprising) news broke that Willie Revillame would be returning to television via a new weekly show on GMA Network.
The fact that Willie Revillame would now have gone from ABS-CBN to TV5 to GMA Network was a relative source of jokes at the time for some people. But for most of the Philippine TV audience, it was the most welcome of news.
The new show entitled Wowowin (like all its predecessors on ABS-CBN and TV5) wasn’t necessarily going to be a show for those who feel like they’re above such types of programs. Though a term that has been given a negative connotation in social media echo chambers, Wowowin and Willie Revillame himself maintained the feeling of being proudly “pang-masa.”
Wowowin would be a simple show for the majority of Filipinos who are less than privileged. Be entertained for an hour or two while also getting the chance for some neat prizes. Prizes that might seem trivial for some, but mean the world to most.
Which is why in 2022, the news of Willie Revillame leaving GMA Network and thus ending Wowowin after almost seven years has come as a shock and with much sadness for many people.
I don’t think Willie Revillame will ever match the peak that was the height of Wowowee‘s local and international popularity in the late-2000s. The type of popular fever that filled open grounds across the Philippines and arenas in the United States. Yet Willie Revillame’s time on GMA Network brought about a different kind of success as well.
After ending his run on TV5, many thought it would be the end of Willie Revillame’s relevance in local entertainment. That he would just retire and live a quiet life in the comfortable and luxurious homes that he’d worked hard for.
Yet his return on GMA Network turned into what might be the most successful seven years of his career yet. Not only did Willie Revillame successfully reenergize his career, he also reenergized GMA Network in timeslots that had long languished and provided the network their own non-Eat Bulaga “pang-masa” variety show. Something that the network had been actively trying (and failing) to do for years.
Wowowin‘s big ratings on sleepy Sunday afternoons turned into great ratings on weekday early evenings. Those weekday timeslots previously held by Tagalized foreign dramas or horribly rated original soap operas were now attracting a solid audience and even viral social media-ready clips. Two things that aren’t the easiest to accomplish by other GMA Network programs.
Both Willie Revillame and Wowowin would enjoy the moral support of the network. But with the primary financial backing of Willie Revillame himself. The show would first air via a blocktime agreement with GMA before becoming a co-production. But as Willie Revillame would often mention on air, he’d spend his own money not only to provide the necessary resources to keep it on the air, including renovating GMA’s German Moreno Studio into a modern, tech-advanced and LED-floored home for the show.
At the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, Wowowin would unexpectedly become a template for what live television would look like in the immediate future. As the world transitioned to virtual everything while being locked down in their own homes, Willie Revillame and his team would put together the show’s modified Tutok to Win broadcast. First via online streaming on Facebook and YouTube and later quickly transitioning to television, the show again proved to be a relative success. Especially during the pandemic when the rest of television was still figuring out ways to adjust and get back into production.
The biggest attraction for many viewers of Wowowin was always Willie Revillame’s unwavering generosity (almost to a fault) toward people who might have no other choice but to ask for even the smallest bit of help. And Tutok to Win‘s format allowed him to continue that in a way that became so successful, everyone from Raffy Tulfo to Vic Sotto to Billy Crawford would employ the “phone a viewer” gimmick on their own shows to give home viewers such prizes as a few thousand pesos just for tuning in.
Tutok to Win even brought about another milestone for GMA Network. It appears to have been the first network series to livestream in full HD. Which, from a network who at the time still uploaded 480p (or below) quality clips to their official YouTube channel, is a huge big deal.
Fast forward to February 5, 2022. The shocking and unexpected news that Willie Revillame’s contract would end and Wowowin only had one week left on the air. Because the news was broken in an almost-throw away like fashion in this 16 second report on 24 Oras Weekend, many wondered what in the world was going on.
Especially when just two weeks prior, Willie Revillame excitedly announced that he would be renewing his contract and Wowowin would remain on the air for another year:
But in the week since, details became a bit clearer. And in the final episode of Wowowin, Willie Revillame confirmed most of what was already quickly making the rounds.
A New Era?
One important detail to keep in mind would be the news from earlier in January that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) awarded former Senator Manny Villar’s Advanced Media Broadcasting System (AMBS) provisional authority to operate television frequencies previously assigned to ABS-CBN.
The professional and personal relationship between Willie Revillame and Manny Villar is no secret. Indeed, Tutok to Win originated from a makeshift studio in Wil Tower, the mixed-use condominium development the two partnered on and which opened in the early 2010s.
So when the idea of Willie Revillame making the jump to AMBS began making the rounds, it was more than a plausible guess. And as confirmed by the man himself, Willie Revillame refused to discuss any kind of possible position at the potential new network while still under contract out of respect to the big bosses at GMA Network who helped give him a new television home for almost seven years.
Unlike in 2013, Willie Revillame’s future on television and relevance in local entertainment isn’t as uncertain. Aside from the potential new network, Tutok to Win (later Tutok Para Manalo) apparently opened Willie’s eyes to online streaming. And as he also announced on the final show, he would continue the Tutok Para Manalo format via livestreaming on Wowowin‘s YouTube and Facebook accounts (which GMA Network has “gifted” to Willie by transferring ownership and control to him).
But there is certainly a bit of déjà vu once again. But this time, back to Willie Revillame’s start on TV5. Willing Willie/Wil Time Bigtime helped provide a boost to the newly-relaunched network and was very much a part of its early success.
Could that scenario repeat itself, albeit on a smaller scale, with the potential AMBS network? That’s yet to be seen. Especially when nothing regarding Willie Revillame’s involvement in such a network (whether as on-screen talent or in an executive position) has been confirmed.
Still, the idea of a 4th major television network in the Philippines is actually an intriguing possibility. I’ve always been of the belief that the Philippines needs more television options, not less.
The ABS-CBN “shutdown” (which I still don’t understand since they’re not actually shut down, but still up and running though in a much slimmer fashion) was a tremor in Philippine entertainment. Though initially rocking the industry in a way I never thought I would see, the situation seems to have stabilized faster than one might have expected. So much so that even ABS-CBN fans would rather keep things the way they are (Kapamilya programs available via streaming, cable and blocktime agreements with TV5) than strike a deal with AMBS to return to their spots on the dial.
But ABS-CBN still exists and is producing television content. TV5 is making another renewed attempt at their own original local programming (now with the help of corporate sibling Cignal, which they should have been doing much earlier). And GMA Network is as steady as she goes. No more, no less than pre-“shutdown” or even pre-COVID times.
Adding a fourth major player would, on paper, look to be a much bigger shift in the industry than what’s happened so far. But it’s also important to remember that TV5 is still struggling to reach much of the country outside of Metro Manila. And an AMBS network would have even far less reach than that.
Still, it feels like a whole new world in Philippine television and entertainment has opened especially in the last two years. Between the walls of #NetworkWarCulture starting to show big cracks and the quick growth of streaming options, plus the impending analog shutoff, it would seem like anything is possible now.
Legacy is Set
But back to what might end up being part of the catalyst for the next “era” of Philippine television.
Willie Revillame’s legacy is set. He could even retire now and not pursue an AMBS or streaming or even a quick return to GMA Network.
Perfecting the Wowowin format. Capturing the hearts and minds of the Filipino masses and even Filipinos abroad. Almost two decades across three networks, Willie Revillame has established himself as one of the most consequential and popular personalities of Philippine television.
He’s cemented his spot in the history books. And maybe more importantly for him, he’s solidified his relationship with the Filipino people who, before COVID, he was able to meet and hug every day. The same Filipino people who looked to him and his shows for some hope and some laughs. Energetic, sometimes rowdy audiences cheering in the studio. Families laughing and playing along at home. It’s the kind of wholesome 90 minutes that isn’t common on Philippine TV. And now, Filipinos will have to look elsewhere. Whether it’s following Willie Revillame to YouTube or finding something else.
Whatever is ahead for Willie Revillame, no one can take away what he has accomplished so far. And again, unlike the end of his tenures at ABS-CBN and TV5, his loyal fans and even casual viewers today can hold on to hope that he will return and/or continue that what he has done so well.
What that will look like and on what platform though? I guess we’ll all have to just stay tuned.