In 2022, GMA-7 introduced its viewers to a new genre called the "suspenserye."
It is the best way to describe their prime-time teleserye Widows' Web, a whodunit crime drama wherein four women are caught in a web of lies as they discover the truth behind the death of an influential man.
The series features Carmina Villarroel, Pauline Mendoza, Ashley Ortega, and Vaness del Moral in the lead roles.
It tells the story of Elaine (Pauline), a simple woman who enters the world of the rich as she investigates the truth behind the death of Alexander Sagrado III (Ryan Eigenmann), an influential man known as AS3.
Elaine’s only goal is to find the killer so that her boyfriend, Frank (Edgar Allan Guzman), would be acquitted for the crime that he did not commit.
In the midst of her investigation, Elaine crosses paths with the three women in AS3’s life: his sister Barbara (Carmina), his wife Jackie (Ashley), and Hillary (Vaness), Jackie’s friend who also has a connection with him.
Widows’ Web, which premiered on February 28, 2022, is down to its last few episodes after nine weeks of airing.
Every episode is filled with suspense as viewers are left guessing and coming up with their own theories behind the death of AS3 and his killer.
Although the whodunit genre is not new to Pinoys, GMA-7 made an effort to raise the bar higher for the show to be called the first suspenserye of the Kapuso network.
As the series comes to a close, PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) sits down with the show's producers and creators for an exclusive interview where they share important facts and trivia behind the making of the network’s first suspenserye.
Present in the interview are GMA assistant vice president for drama and program manager Helen Rose Sese, creative head RJ Nuevas, creator and headwriter Ken de Leon, executive producer Kaye Cadsawan, second unit director Philip Lazaro, and main director Jerry Lopez Sineneng.
1. Creative development for Widows’ Web was two years in the making.
Creative head RJ Nuevas reveals Widows' Web was an original concept of his writing team, led by headwriter Ken de Leon.
While writers are usually given parameters to develop a show, this was not the case for Widows' Web. As the writers were given free rein, the show's creative development actually took at least two years.
He narrates, “Kasi ang sistema namin sa GMA, each consultant has a team of writers na nag-iisip ng story. Usually, we ask them, ‘Uy, naghahanap ng Marian concept. Uy, naghahanap ng Dingdong concept, ‘tapos nag-iisip sila within those parameters.
“Ako, para galing sa puso ng writer ang sinusulat nila, I usually ask them, ‘Bigyan niyo ako ng dream project niyo, walang parameters. Wala akong ibibigay sa inyo na requirements, ano yung gustong-gusto niyong gawin?’ That’s how Ken gave me the concept of Widows’ Web.
“Right from the start, yun ang title niya, right from the start it’s about widows kasi namatayan yung isa at mysterious ang pagkamatay. Right from the start, it’s a whodunit.”
He and Ken then developed the concept to be pitched to the bosses.
He continues, “It took us a year to develop it because of the pandemic. Natatandaan ko, we pitched it sa taas, sa mga bosses, February of 2021.
“Pero even before that, siguro noong pinitch namin siya ng February, nag-uusap na kami ni Ken, mga August pa lang ng 2020. So ganun kahaba dahil din sa pandemic nga.
“Every week na kaming nagmi-meeting nina Ken, we all went through scripting kung papaano bubuuin.”
According to Ken, what really took them long in the concept development stage was the characterization of the four lead characters.
Ken explains, “Kasi one of the main ingredients of this show is the four women na hindi pwedeng yung dalawa lang ang bida ‘tapos yung dalawa, side character. It really took us time to develop each of their character map, gawin silang iba-iba.
“[We] make sure they have their moments, na per episode or per week, kahit moment ito ni Jackie, hindi nawawala si Hillary, hindi nawawala [yung iba].
“Iyon yung isang bagay na pinanindigan namin, yung apat na babae ang magiging frontliner, hindi lang dalawa usually.”
Aside from that, the creative team also made sure that all their characters are nuanced and complex.
Ken continues, “All of them are flawed, kahit yung masasama ay mabubuti.
“In a way, that’s a bit difficult. But with the help of the creative and production team, we were able to create very human characters.
“Kaya kapag nakita mo si Jackie, hindi siya perfect. Even Elaine, even Barbara, like ang sama-sama niya, pero that was one of our parameters, na hindi pwedeng black and white lang yung characters namin.
“I think we were able to achieve that based on the feedback of the audience na may Team Jackie, may Team Barbara, may Team Hillary, and then there were those who were rooting for Team Laylayan or si Elaine.”
2. Casting trivia: Producers had to ask permission to include Carmina Villarroel in the show; Ashley Ortega was supposed to play Elaine
Netizens have been praising the four lead actresses of Widows' Web as they fit the characters they are playing.
Carmina Villarroel plays Barbara Sagrado-Dee, the elder sister of AS3 who was extremely disappointed after he did not give her a position in the Sagrado Group of Companies. She is later found to be in a relationship with George (Mike Agassi), a younger man who happens to be the sports coach of her son, Jed (Anjay Anson).
Ashley Ortega is Jackie Antonio-Sagrado, the wife of AS3 whom he manipulates for a long time. Jackie is later revealed to be an ex-prostitute who was in a relationship with AS3’s illegitimate brother, Vladimir (Adrian Alandy).
Vaness del Moral plays Hillary Suarez, Jackie’s best friend who is married to AS3’s best friend, William (Bernard Palanca). Apparently, Hillary had an affair with AS3 and is even pregnant with their baby.
Finally, Pauline Mendoza is Elaine, a simple girl who is thrust into the world of the wealthy when she decides to investigate the truth behind the murder of AS3 and clear the name of her fiancé, Frank (Edgar Allan Guzman).
According to Helen Sese, the group really brainstormed together to fill the roles of the four women.
Helen narrates, “It’s a group decision, ang tagal naming pina-approve, ang tagal naming nagbabatuhan kung sino yung mga cast [that] would fit the role.
“’Tapos siyempre for approval ng top management. Gladly, we were approved to have this cast with us.”
But if top management did not approve of the casting, Carmina would have not joined the show!
“Ipinagpaalam pa nga namin iyan kasi si Carmina was already with The End of Us ‘tapos tatawid sa amin.
“Buti pumayag yung management na segue to another show.”
A new casting protocol in GMA-7 says that producers can only cast an actor two months after his or her existing show has ended, since shows are now canned before they get aired on TV.
As for Ashley, Widows’ Web is her big break after viewers noticed her acting abilities in Legal Wives.
Helen continues, “’Tapos si Ashley naman came from Legal Wives. Kasi from her performance sa Legal Wives, parehas kami ng desisyon ni Kuya RJ na pwede na si Ashley na maglead na sa prime-time.”
In a PEP Live guesting with Pauline, Ashley revealed that she was originally offered to play Elaine, but was eventually given the role of Jackie instead.
Executive producer Kaye Cadsawan says about this, “Si Pauline kasi, siya yung pinakasimple sa kanilang apat kaya mas pasok sa kanya yung character ni Elaine.”
As for Hillary, Helen says that Vaness has been a “reliable actress ever since.”
But since she is portraying an off-beat character, who was inspired by Tessa Prieto-Valdes, they were also a little worried if Vaness could pull it off.
Kaye says, “At first, natatakot din kami kasi baka hindi ma-pull off. Pero in fairness to Vaness, talagang ang galing-galing niya.
“Iyong mga damit niya, talagang kering-keri niya! Iyong mga viewers, gusto nang i-mine yung mga damit niya."
RJ, being only focused on the scripting for the show while it is being produced, is all praises for the cast.
He exclaims, “Tuwang-tuwa ako sa mga actors, sa cast, na sa tulong ng mga direktor natin, perfect ang cast.
“Wala kang tatanggalin, wala kang lalaitin parang ganun, lahat… oh my God, it’s so perfect! Sorry!”
3. Alexander Sagrado III is inspired by real-life CEOs and powerful men.
The character of Alexander Sagrado III or AS3, portrayed by Ryan Eigenmann, only makes a brief appearance in the show. However, his character is as important as the other stars.
After all, the story revolves around his death and how his secrets will slowly unravel throughout the show.
This is why the creative team really took the time to research different powerful men to create the perfect AS3.
Ken says, “Actually, marami kaming mga research and stories from CEOs or powerful men and actually, yun yung mga naging inspiration namin.
“We took one na charming na CEO na kinukwentong si ganito and then mahilig magmasahe ng shoulders.
“Little by little, we created our own version of AS3, a powerful, manipulative man na hindi downright… na hindi malakas magsalita or very harsh.
“Medyo malumanay nga nang kaunti si Ryan when he talks or when he makes demands.
“So, parang we took inspiration from the people we know or we see on the news."
RJ says that until the end of the show, viewers still have to watch for AS3.
“Later, sa bandang dulo, meron kaming ipapakitang humanity sa side ni AS3 na, ‘Ah, ganun pala siya!’”
4. The production gave importance to the look and styling of the characters.
Hillary is indeed one of the show's scene-stealers.
Among the four women, Hillary is the nouveau-riche type of woman who always wears extravagant dresses and hairpieces and does exaggerated actions.
This is why viewers are so entertained by her.
Of course, it is the portrayal of Vaness that makes it all effective.
Second unit director Philip Lazaro reveals that he actually helped Vaness in formulating her character.
Philip shares, “I talked to her, sabi ko, ‘Mayaman ka rito, sosyal ka, think of Barbara—smooth, elegant, pino.
“’Kapag naisip mo si Barbara, hindi ikaw yun kasi iba ka. Kasi ikaw, campy ka, mas makulay ka. Pero dapat, andun pa rin yung hindi magmumukhang pilit.’
“Iyon ang maganda, na-pull off. She’s a very good actress, na-pull off niya yung character kasi pag yun, hindi mo gusto yung actress, ang awkward, masakit sa ipin.
“Sabi ko, ‘You prolong your words, kapag nagsalita ka para kang laging pintuang bumubukas. I-sosyal mo siya pero hindi Barbarang sosyal.’
“Ang bilis kausap, ang husay niya.”
When it comes to styling, Direk Jerry Lopez Sineneng and Kaye really made sure to pay attention to the clothes of the entire cast, at least for the first two weeks.
But thankfully, the stylists are also meticulous to follow the show’s continuity, especially since scenes for the show were not taped in chronological order.
Direk Jerry narrates, “Pre-prod pa lang, tinutukan na namin, down to the headpieces.
“Pero in fairness ha, pilot lang or hanggang week two yung natutukan namin sa pre-prod. Pero yung daily grind, yung stylist na talaga. At kehuhusay ng tatlo naming stylists.
“Seldom do I work with a make-up artist na alam yung continuity ng artista. Dito, pati yung kulot alam nila.
“Siyempre kasi, yung ibang make-up artist, nakaasa yan sa prod. In fairness, sa mga make-up artist namin, alam kung ilan ang kulot sa likod!
“Pati wardrobe team namin, tutok na tutok. Ano siya, it’s a product of hard work and I personally would like to commend them, napakahusay.”
It was actually RJ’s request to the production to have this set of clothes for the characters’ look.
RJ recalls telling Kaye, “Gandahan naman natin ang damit. Gawin nating patalbugan ng mga damit ito!”
He is happy that the production team delivered.
Kaye says, “Para kaming may fashion show every taping! Kahit kami sa production, inaabangan namin ang paglabas ng mga artista.
“Sino na naman ang may magandang damit dito? During pre-prod pa lang, as in sinala na namin yung mga damit na gagamitin nila dahil si Direk Jerry talagang sobrang tutok siya sa detalye.
“Pero in fairness, naitago lahat ng mga hindi dapat makita, ang galing galing ng mga shots!”
Helen adds, “Siyempre, we’re thankful sa management kasi the budget that we need was provided for us to have this output.
“Kumpleto yung suportang nasa amin kaya kargado din kami.”
5. The Sagrado mansion was shot in five different hotels!
Kaye, who has worked as an executive producer for many years now, admits about Widows’ Web: “Ito yung pinakamahirap kong show!”
She reasons, “Kasi kailangan mong panindigan, e. Yung yaman, kailangan mong ipakita lahat ng detalye sa Sagrado mansion!
“Ang hirap niya, kailangan every day mong tutukan kasi nga hindi pwede yung pwede na.”
Since Widows’ Web revolves around the world of high society, the producers have to make sure that viewers will be convinced that this family is really rich.
One episode mentioned that the Sagrado mansion had a west wing and an east wing.
The producers had to surmount a huge logistical challenge to pull this off.
Helen reveals, “Trivia lang din, ha, yung Sagrado mansion, it’s not a house. It’s a composition of five different hotels na ang ginawa namin, napagtagni-tagni namin na lalabas siya na mukha siyang mansyon.
“Pero sa totoo lang, noong tine-taping namin yan, yung walk-in closet ni Barbara, nasa ibang hotel. Yung study room ni AS3, nasa Taal Vista. Yung swimming pool, nasa ibang location din yan. Yung drone shot is a different hotel.
“Pero noong nakita mo nang in-edit, swak, di ba?”
Laughing, Kaye adds, “Ikaw ba naman na magkaroon ng east wing at saka west wing sa mansyon, di ba? Hindi ka ba mahirapan talaga?”
This is why Helen was happy when a clip of Delia (Mosang) and Rose (Karenina Haniel) explaining the east wing and west wing of the house went viral online.
She says, “Pinanindigan naman ng production at ng both directors ang request ng creatives na gawan natin ito ng west wing at east wing.
“Kaya natutuwa ako na nakita ko yung clip ni Mosang at saka ni Rose na nagpapaliwanag tungkol doon. Ang daming views.
“Ito yun, ito yung sukli sa pinagplanuhan ng buong team.”
Aside from the “yaman” details, Direk Jerry openly says that he really pays much attention to detail, even the smallest of things.
He says, “Makulit ako sa production design, makulit ako sa ilaw, makulit ako sa lahat ng bagay.
“Iyon talaga yung ugali ko mula noong una akong nagdi-direktor. I just want everything to be right, to be correct before I take a scene.”
RJ, as a writer, appreciates how the production gave importance to the grand details that were written in the script.
He says, “Bilang kami nila Ken, writers kami at ang hawak lang namin ay papel at ang imagination namin, so sa imagination namin, maganda ang location, maganda ang mga damit.
“Usually, kapag ganon, they come short when you watch it kasi hindi matatapatan usually ang imagination mo, e.
“Pero with this, madalas kong purihin ang production dahil nahihigitan niya yung napanuod ko sa isip ko.
“Kudos to the production at saka sa designer kasi ang luwang ng space na ipinapakita ng camera pero lahat ng detalye, maayos. Hindi yung naka-focus sa isang lugar at napabayaan na itong ibang parts ng eksena.
“Kapag titignan mo yung buong eksena, kahit ang luwang ng shot, ‘Ay, ang ganda naman ng upuan doon! Ay, ang ganda naman ng puno doon.’ Kumbaga alagang alaga ang composition.
“Ngayon ko lang narinig kay Jerry na particular siya sa details. And thank you kasi nakikita ko talaga, kahit hindi siya gagamitin sa eksena, nadaanan lang siya ng mga characters pero ang ganda ng composition.”
As for Direk Jerry, he also did some experiments for his first Kapuso project.
He shares, “Whenever we hear the word suspense, ang ini-imagine kong mapanuod ay dark, madilim.
“But for this one, ang ginawa namin, family drama lighting siya. Glossy, hindi madilim.
“Tuwang tuwa ako doon na we did not go the traditional path na kapag suspense ay madilim ang bahay, madilim ang ganyan ganyan.”
6. The origin behind the term Suspenserye.
RJ admits there was a little confusion the first time GMA-7 introduced Widows’ Web as a suspenserye.
After all, this was actually not the first time GMA-7 did a show of this kind.
GMA-7’s first foray into suspense drama was in 2007 via La Vendetta, a prime-time series starring Jennylyn Mercado, Sunshine Dizon, and Jean Garcia.
The series was also a whodunit drama wherein sisters Sunshine and Jean were trying to find out who killed their youngest sister, played by Jennylyn.
But La Vendetta’s plot had another aspect: Jennylyn’s character appeared as a ghost and haunted everyone until they found out who killed her.
This plotline is absent in Widows’ Web.
Although it was introduced as a suspense-drama series at that time, the term “suspenserye” had not been coined.
This is why some viewers got confused as to why Widows’ Web was tagged as the “First Suspenserye ng GMA.”
Laughing, RJ says, “Actually, may mga nagko-comment directly, may nag-comment sa akin na bakit first suspenserye, e suspenserye ang La Vendetta.
“Unang-una, hindi ko alam na ganun ipu-promote ng GMA itong Widows’ Web! Hindi ko alam, hindi ako prepared!
“So, may nag-contact sa akin at nagtanong, ‘Bakit first suspenserye ang Widows’ Web, e di po ba La Vendetta ang first?’
"[Sabi ko], kasi may multo ang La Vendetta, may pagka-horror siya!”
According to Helen, it was actually the PSD group or the department that does the show plugs and trailers who coined the term suspenserye.
RJ is happy that the term helped in amplifying the popularity of the series.
But because the genre now has a specific name, does this mean that GMA-7 will create more suspenseryes in the future?
Helen answers, “Yes, we will explore that.”