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August 23, 2007

That’s entertainment

Wilma Galvante, Senior Vice-President for Entertainment TV, GMA Network, Inc.


Three television sets were turned on inside Wilma Galvante’s office at GMA Network, Inc. One unit was devoted to GMA-7, another to Quality Television or QTV, another GMA-owned network, and another to rival ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp.

At home, a TV set can be configured to divide into seven screens. Better to see the goings-on both in local TV and in foreign channels, GMA-7’s senior vice-president for entertainment explained. Ms. Galvante said she is not distracted by the multiple screens. (She considers National Geographic and Animal Planet her favorite foreign shows.) It is, after all, her vocation.

Since she was a small girl, Ms. Galvante has always been fascinated with show business - the humming sound at the background while she does her household chores and assignments.

Her father worked in a TV company and her family was one of the first households in the neighborhood in Sampaloc, Manila who had a TV set. Back then, watching television was a communal affair as it was still considered a luxury. The Galvante family did not hesitate to share viewing with their neighbors. During the finale of the Tanghalan ng Kampeon, a singing contest, the TV was placed outside so everybody could watch.

Arguably one of the most influential women in the entertainment industry, Ms. Galvante said she can start trends, make or break a young star’s prospects or resurrect a dead career. (Ms. Galvante, in fact, is known as Tita Wilma among network wards and industry insiders.)

She was a scholar at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and was employed as a production assistant (PA) in Channel 9, which was then run by the Benedicto family during the martial law year, immediately after graduation.

PAs then were jacks of all trade, including knowing how a show runs from the financial to the production side. This was Ms. Galvante’s introduction to showbiz. She said a lot of her experiences had to do with being a woman in show business, a cutthroat industry where decision makers and network executives were mostly male. "Production is all about attention to details. A woman gives attention to details. The guys, they can’t hack it. They can’t stay with it."

Ms. Galvante learned how to line-produce, strike deals, handle talents and their managers, and cajole finicky stars. She often had to sweet talk actors-in-trouble. "Actors are a special breed. But you still have to tell them this is a job. This is a business... You have to be a mother to them."

She became a sought-after line producer in the 1970s and 1980s that even the film greats such as Lino Brocka and Lupita Kashiwahara demanded that she work for them. She worked at ungodly hours.

Ms. Galvante’s first taste of success was a talent search. "I conceptualized... Bagong Kampeon [new champion]... in 1981," she said. The show grabbed the Filipinos’ penchant for singing and siding with the underdogs of competition. Bagong Kampeon kick-started other talent search shows that injected new ideas to the industry.

It was an experiment at having odd-couple hosts. Bagong Kampeon partnered everyman Bert Marcelo and Asia’s Queen of Songs Pilita Corales. Ms. Galvante said network heads were initially skeptical of the team-up, but the singing contest became a hit on prime time.

The program’s contemporary match, Starstruck, also became a hit for GMA and revived the love team tandem popularized in the 1970s. Ms. Galvante also resurrected local comics titles and introduced fantasy series on prime time such as Mulawin, a story of humanized avian creatures, and Darna, a local version of the American Wonder Woman, both of which were top-rated shows.

In the late 1980s, GMA played second fiddle to the more powerful and influential ABS-CBN owned by the Lopezes. Reversing the tide, therefore, was hard work, Ms. Galvante said. They had to figure out how to work under the shadow of a politically influential network. They experimented with dramas, lighthearted shows and hired good writers. They bought rights to a number of local comics titles such as Darna and Captain Barbel. By the last quarter of 2003, GMA-7’s prime-time shows led over the rival network’s. The effort paid off in 2004 when media surveys showed GMA-7 as the top network.

In the industry, Ms. Galvante said one has to be alert and to never underestimate the public’s pulse. She recounted an advice from late TV comedian and writer Ading Fernando to always observe and recognize who the audience was.

"Wherever you are, you have to know the common man. You have to know the people who ride the buses, the jeepneys. You have to imitate them, you have to imitate life and exaggerate it," she said.

(This story appeared in BusinessWorld’s Special Report: Shatttering the Glass Ceiling which came out in November 16, 2006.)


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