Eat Bulaga!'s humble beginnings: "We were struggling, di kami sumusuweldo."

by James Patrick Anarcon
Jan 12, 2022
Eat Bulaga
Former Eat Bulaga! executive Malou Choa-Fagar on the show's growth pains: "Pati guestings, ang hirap kumuha. Walang gusto kasi nga hindi ka naman nagre-rate, kahit na nagbabayad ka na ng talent fee for them to guest. Ganun kahirap. Ganun kahirap iyong dinaanan ng Eat Bulaga!”
PHOTO/S: Eat Bulaga! (GMA-7)

The noontime variety show, Eat Bulaga!, remains to be the longest-running noontime show in the country.

The show, produced by TAPE Inc. and headlined by the triumvirate of Senator Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, and Joey de Leon, is set to celebrate its 43rd year this 2022.

TAPE Inc. has just renewed its ties with the Kapuso network on January 11, 2022, declaring the partnership to be “forever.”

It has been 27 years since Eat Bulaga! transferred to GMA-7.

It aired first on the now defunct RPN-9 from 1979 to 1988 and later on ABS-CBN from 1989 to 1994.

Who knew then it would last this long, and just like any other long-running show, Eat Bulaga! started from the bottom.

It had its birth pains and faced many challenges during its first few years.

This was shared by former TAPE Inc. chief operating officer and Eat Bulaga! producer Malou Choa-Fagar in a 2019 exclusive interview with PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal).

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She recalled that back then, the RPN-9 show Eat Bulaga! was rating far behind the highly popular Student Canteen on GMA-7.

Choa-Fagar said, “From the struggling show who was never able to beat Student Canteen, walang advertisers na pumapasok sa amin.

“It was struggling years matagal na panahon na, siguro mga 10 years.”

Even when it started to rate, the show had a hard time wooing advertisers, primarily because it was a blocktimer and not a station-produced program.

Choa-Fagar continued, “Kahit na natalo na namin ang Student Canteen, ang ratings—one time lang naman kasi monthly lang ang ratings noon, e. Kahit na natalo na namin, it’s still hard.

“Siyempre kung network, siyempre madaling ibenta. Kaya lang kasi kami, blocktimer. We’re the only blocktimer that’s existing [at the time]. Wala nang iba. Ayun.

“So, we we’re struggling, hindi kami sumusuweldo.”

The TVJ trio in Eat Bulaga's early yearsThe TVJ trio of Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, and Joey de Leon during Eat Bulaga's early years.

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The coffee table book Eat Bulaga: Ang Unang Tatlong Dekada reveals more details about the beginnings of the show, recalling the times when no one in the show received their pay, but they stayed for the love of it.

According to the book, Eat Bulaga’s first month rated at 5.2% against Student Canteen’s 57.6%.

For lack of sponsors, the show was not generating revenues. With that, the hosts were not paid and the show’s staff would get by through cash advances.

The book added, “The one time there was enough cash to pay the hosts half their monthly salary, a production coordinator even absent-mindedly left the money in a cab.”

Looking back, Choa-Fagar narrated how they tried to target a different market through its first segments like “Send In Your Dreams” and “Bulaga Box,” the reason why the show could not be working.

She told PEP.ph in 2019, “Kasi dati masyadong parang we were hitting the A, B market when it’s not your market, di ba? It’s the C, D, E that’s giving you the ratings.

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“’Tapos pati guestings, ang hirap kumuha. Walang gusto kasi nga hindi ka naman nagre-rate, kahit na nagbabayad ka na ng talent fee for them to guest.

“Ganun kahirap. Ganun kahirap iyong dinaanan ng Eat Bulaga!

CANCELLATION THREAT

There were also problems in terms of paying RPN-9 its airtime.

As said in the book, producer Tony Tuviera had to reason with RPN officials because the network had threatened not to air the program unless the payables have been settled.

Eventually, in December 1979 or six months since Eat Bulaga’s premiere in June 1979, the TV ratings improved. It managed to get 20% against Student Canteen’s 44%.

Still, “it was still a poor second to the competition,” the book revealed.

Eat Bulaga! managed to celebrate its first anniversary “despite the fact that it was neck-deep in debts.”

Romy Jalosjos, the show’s producer, gave everyone three months to improve the show's ratings or he would be forced to cancel the program.

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What made it worse was when Student Canteen launched its “Body Language” segment, a dance contest for women. Eat Bulaga’s ratings dipped again at 10% against Student Canteen’s 51.2%.

FINDING THE RIGHT SEGMENT

Choa-Fagar told PEP.ph, “Siyempre, you rack your brains, how do you beat Student Canteen?”

In 1980, an opportunity opened up for Eat Bulaga! when a foreign film distributor arranged a tie-up with the show for the promotion of a movie.

The movie was You Can’t Stop The Music, an American musical film top-billed by the Village People.

Choa-Fagar recalled, “Tamang-tama, one of the head of sales [in Eat Bulaga!] is also, how do you call that, nag-[distribute] ng mga movies.

“So, tamang-tama movie niya yun 'tapos i-tinie-up namin sa pag-promote ng movie niya.”

That was when the "Mr. Macho" (later known as "Macho Man") segment was born.

As Choa-Fagar put it, “Ang katapat, 'Body Language' sa kabila, mga babaeng gumigiling. So kumuha kami ng mga lalaking gumigiling.”

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Eat Bulaga Mr. Macho segment

In October 1980, Eat Bulaga! was able to beat the ratings of Student Canteen for the first time with 31%. Student Canteen rated 29%.

Now, Eat Bulaga! remains to be an institution on television.

Choa-Fagar knows what could be the secret behind its staying power despite the many birth pains it went through.

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She said, “I guess it’s the people working behind also, di ba? Iyong pagmamahal sa show at saka iyong kumbaga...‘Fight, fight, fight!’

“By God’s grace, in fairness may prayers talaga.”

The Eat Bulaga! pioneers: (L-R) Malou Choa-Fagar, Joey de Leon, Tito Sotto, Tony Tuviera, Vic Sotto, and the late director Bert de Leon

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Former Eat Bulaga! executive Malou Choa-Fagar on the show's growth pains: "Pati guestings, ang hirap kumuha. Walang gusto kasi nga hindi ka naman nagre-rate, kahit na nagbabayad ka na ng talent fee for them to guest. Ganun kahirap. Ganun kahirap iyong dinaanan ng Eat Bulaga!”
PHOTO/S: Eat Bulaga! (GMA-7)
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