The new year has come, an exhilarating television year by early indications. There is a very conscious mood of competition now--definitely, for more advertising money and better program ratings. There is also a distinct preoccupation with prestige: reputation is now a very tangible influence, making its way felt in the manner networks program their properties and make new acquisitions. I will not be surprised if, within this year, Philippine television begins to churn out shows I only think about in connection with a distant future.
True, there are more US shows coming in than I want to see. But unavoidable as the trend seems to be, I like to think that the local shows are only waiting in the wings, waiting for time that will surely come. And while those local shows are germinating, Filipino televiewers can--this year--have a wider feel of US television on a broader range of stations. It may not make us go crazy over US shows, which have lately been nothing more than a pastiche of sex, comedy, sex-comedy, comedy-sex, and whatever other combinations of the words you can produce, but it will at least make us realize what we woefully lack in our TV diet.
Primarily, I am excited about the entry into the local small screen of Lifeline, the highly-touted NBC docudrama, perhaps the farthest US television can get from the sex-comedy formula. And Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman should be good viewing on the level of social satire--showing up Soap for what it is not--although sex may be just as persistent in it as in any other current US sitcom.
By the way, most of those sitcoms are also coming, if not in the first week of the new year, then within 1979. These include: Laverne & Shirley, which features two female beer-factory workers living in Milwaukee in the '50s; Three's Company, which details the experiences of two women roommates sharing a flat with a single man; and Who's Watching the Kids, a series about Las Vegas showgirls.
The more reputable among the new imports, Paper Chase and Kaz, have been given good reviews by popular US magazines. Unfortunately, the life span of these shows depends on their ratings, hardly an indication or a reflection of how good they really are.
On the local mill, the shows for the new year are still in flux. There's Sandy's Cousin, the local answer to the foreign sex comedy. The rigors of press time prevent us from giving an early assessment of just how well Filipinos play the US game. We will certainly take time off in the future to watch the show. That is, if it survives its first critical weeks on air.
What we really hope will get off the blueprint stage soon and jump into the local small screen are locally produced miniseries. There is something about dramatic miniseries (Remember Roots, Holocaust, Eleanor and Franklin, Notorious Woman, and Edward VII?) that gives television a definite historical value and makes it a very attractive and popular link between the past and the present, between the people who made history and the people who are making it now. While obviously made more palatable for modern viewers, these miniseries succeed in provoking interest and encouraging deeper study into their subjects and their times.
And perhaps the local networks will also see their way to cancelling many of the local shows that have outlived their appeal and overextended their welcome. These shows may still rate, but they do nothing to help improve the quality of the small screen. And improvement is precisely why television comes up with new lineups every season.
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