Media-shy and interview-averse, Tony Tuviera—the man behind noontime juggernaut Eat Bulaga!—indulges in a rare, intimate discussion about the show, from its shaky, debt-ridden beginnings, to the legacy it continues to build as the country’s longest running noontime program
AS TOLD TO JANSEN MUSICO / PORTRAIT BY MARK NICDAO
Tito, Vic, and Joey turned me down, several times. Na sa Discorama na sila eh. Medyo kilala na sila. And there were times they were in Student Canteen. When Eddie Ilarde and Bobby Ledesma were out of the country, sila ang pumapalit. They said no, so ang sabi ko, “Please don’t close the door.” After three to four months, I tried again. Sabi ko, “We got the rights to Binibining Pilipinas. Pare, puro biyahe at mga babae ’to. Wala kayong problema. Meron tayong entire crew.” I wanted to show them how organized we were. Opening act sila for Imelda Papin tapos mag–hohost pa sila. They took a leave from Discorama. Nine cities, biniyahe namin all over. We got very close. Tapos, sabi ko, “Pare, baka namang puwede niyo nang i-consider?” Hindi pa rin.
And then something happened. Bobby Ledesma, yung pinaka-producer ng Student Canteen told them, “I guess I won’t see you guys next Saturday.” Nagulat silang tatlo. May nag-leak kasi na kinukuha sila ng isang producer. Noong nalaman ko, tumakbo agad ako may dala-dalang mga kontrata at tseke. “Ito, pirmahan niyo na.” Sabi ni Tito kay Joey, “Jo! Paano ba ’to? Pikit-mata na?” Pumirma rin si Joey, pero sabi niya sa akin, “Ganito pare ha, pag-humindi si Vic, wala ’to.” Sabi ko, “Sige.” So may dala-dala akong Asti Spumante at bucket ng ice pagpunta ko sa Intercon. Naghintay ako sa parking lot. Kinakausap nila si Vic. Tapos si Vic ang unang nagsabi, “Tumagal lang tayo ng isang taon, pambayad lang sa auto.”
We rented rooms in Sulu Hotel. Doon kami nag-conceptualize. We already had the lineup, Channel 9 agreed, but we still didn’t have a title. It was Joey De Leon who thought of Eat Bulaga! “Eat” kasi noontime, and “Bulaga” for surprises. We started doing the lyrics for the theme song. We were doing the opening animation. Walang uwian. Kung anu-ano ang nangyari sa Sulu Hotel until we were finally able to launch. Ayun, pag-launch, semplang.
We were ready to throw in the towel. Ang hope lang namin, sana at least tumagal kami ng isang taon because we were fighting the number one show at that time. We were doing everything in a very creative manner. Sa kabila, nagbubunot lang sila, nagbubunot with music. Kami, merong kung anu-anong pakulo pero hindi kami manalo-nalo sa ratings. We lost heavily. We were heavy in debt. My boss told me, “I’m giving you three months. If in that time we don’t rate decently, we’ll shut it down.”
“Macho dancer! Gusto mong makakita?” I was talking to Oscar Salazar, the movie scribe, and that’s what he said nung tinanong ko siya about what was happening outside. Sometimes, hindi ba, ang problema natin, we get so engrossed with what we’re doing, we forget what’s really happening sa labas, kung ano ’yung uso. So ang sabi ko sa kanya, “Kumuha ka ng macho dancer. I-guest natin. At that time, one of the major movie companies approached us to help them promote Can’t Stop the Music with the Village People. We mixed the macho dancing and the Village People, and in a span of two weeks, kinopya sila ng mga viewers. In two months, we beat Student Canteen.
The difference was Student Canteen was very formal. Naka-Amerikana at party dress sila ’di ba? Eh kami naka-jeans. Si Joey, minsan, pumapasok ng naka-sando lang. Tapos nagtatakbuhan pa kunwari, but it was scripted. From the very beginning, meron na kaming mga idiot boards. So ’yung sinasabi nila, scripted, except for those times when they got so casual. Magtatawanan lang kami. It was a very playful set. The young crowd at that time started to notice.
Tito, Vic, and Joey’s characters were based on research. We asked how people perceived them, at doon namin dinadala. Si Vic mahiyain, ang lakas ng appeal sa babae, at gustong–gusto nila kapag kumakanta siya. Si Joey pilyo, and he’s the type who would wear different colors ng shoes. Iba siya. Si Tito naman was the boss. Ang last say nasa kanya. He would be the serious type, pero siya ang comedian. Kaya lang, bago niya mai-deliver ’yung punchline, natatawa na siya agad. We had a staff that would think of all these things, and we would marry it with the personalities of the three.
Akala ni Aiza Seguerra siya yung winner ng Little Miss Philippines. Fourth place lang siya. Siya at ang mommy niya, naka-standby lang palagi sa taping. That child would always approach me whenever darating ako. Ang daldal niya. Sabi ko, “Ah, maybe the noontime slot has never seen a mother and a child? Baka puwede ’to.” Si Coney Reyes and yung bata. That was it.
Noong una, most of the segments sa akin nanggagaling. Joey was very helpful. Kapag meron siyang idea, ibabato niya. We also had a team who would develop segment concepts. Before we put anything on air, we [would create] mockups first. Kung hindi masyadong kuwela, I will suggest na baka puwedeng iba naman ang gawin. I used to say na pare-parehong bola lang ang concepts na ’yan. Ito, bola. Kapag nilagyan mo ng guhit, iba na ’yan. Kapag inikot mo, iba na naman ’yan.
Sometimes people would ask us, “Ano pa ba ang hindi niyo nagagawa?” Hindi ko na nga alam kasi 35 years na. Halos lahat yata nagawa na namin. That’s why sometimes we rehash. And sometimes, what happens is our competitors will get a concept from our old files and then put some new trimmings on it, tapos ’yun ang ilalaban nila sa amin. With the present generation, it looks bago, pero luma na talaga. Almost everything that’s been on television, halos lahat nagawa na namin.
During the first seven to 10 years, I was on set everyday. Now I’m only there every Saturday. There’s a conscious effort on our part to make it a bonding day for us. We eat together, and we conceptualize what’s going to happen next. Up to now, we still have twice a week meetings to discuss what to do. And we inject a lot of science to it already. Kasi ngayon, madali nang mag-research unlike before.
Naka three stations na kami. We started with Channel 9, then Channel 2, and then Channel 7. Sinusundan kami ng tao. We’ve always been very sincere with them. I remember saying this when the show received an award in Singapore: “You people [the audience] have a lot of choices, but you chose us. So it’s incumbent on our part to really put a lot of effort to make the show for you.”
Naiyak kami the first time we heard the Eat Bulaga! theme song in Bahasa. We’re very proud to be the only Filipino show na may franchise. May tumawag lang sa akin from Indonesia. Somebody was interested in Eat Bulaga! Noong una, hindi pa nga ako naniwala. Pero sinabi niya, “We’re going there. Can you possibly meet us over lunch?” Nagulat ako because the head of the channel and two other guys from Indonesia said that they were very much interested in the program. I asked why. Ang sagot sa akin ang ganda, “Do you know that we’ve been studying your show for the past six months? Your show has been on the air for over 30 years. You must be doing something right.”
I still enjoy watching Eat Bulaga live. Kaya minsan, nahuhuli ako ng camera na nakatayo sa gilid. I like seeing the reaction of the audience, o ’di kaya nakatingin ako sa monitor. Sinasabi ko minsan, “Wala siya sa ilaw! Sabihin mo, wala siya sa ilaw!” Nakikialam pa rin ako sa production hanggang ngayon. And I guess it’s different when your cast and crew see you’re there with them.
It’s a family, the way we run it. Sobrang dikit-dikit namin kaya masarap, pero minsan mahirap din. Araw-araw silang magkasama sa set. Kapag may nagkakasamaan ng loob, naku. Parang dalawang kapatid na hindi naguusap. Parang mag-asawang nag-aaway. Pero magkasama kayo eh. Wala kang other choice kung hindi makipag-ayos.
I’ve said this before, my greatest fear is to see the show end. I’ve dedicated more than half of my life to this show. That’s why lahat kami nakakapit eh. Hindi kami bumibitaw. Eat Bulaga! ang enjoyment ko. That’s why sinasabi ko sa mga anak ko, if you want to be successful in life, get into something that you would enjoy really doing. It’s a wonderful job, and I enjoy every minute of it.
This article first appeared in Rogue’s December 2014 issue.