Back in the '90s, young people must have a lot going on in their lives on Saturdays. “Probably they were either into extra-curricular activities, in school, or out in the malls. There was no teen audience on television’s afternoon timeslot,” says director Mark Reyes.
So when he was asked by GMA, through VIVA to produce a youth-oriented show, for a Saturday afternoon timeslot, he knew it would be a challenge. But he took on the job anyway, bringing his creativity, enthusiasm, and gung-ho attitude to the table.
“I was fresh out of college, I had a barkada and automatic na every Saturday, I’ll be with them. Even way back in high school, it was something,” the now 50-year-old says, looking back at his younger years. “It’s inherent in the Pinoy culture to have a barkada. They are your chosen family.” This served as the seed idea for what would become the weekend teenage series T.G.I.S., or Thank God It’s Sabado.
The title was Reyes’ idea. He admits it was inspired by the popular campaigns at that time—Jollibee’s “I Love you Sabado” (coincidentally coined by Reyes’ brother, who was then working in advertising) and San Miguel Super Dry’s “Sabado Nights.”
“So Sabado was a very iconic word at that time. I thought of the expression ‘Thank God It’s Friday,’ but I replaced Friday with Sabado. The bosses of VIVA and GMA liked it and now it’s very iconic on its own,” he says.
It’s been 25 years since the show premiered on GMA’s Saturday afternoon timeslot, and the memories the program created linger on. People still talk about T.G.I.S. on social media. Even the fandom of Wacks and Peachy, Mickey and Cris, though the love teams are no longer on air, are still very much alive.
“It’s never forgotten,” Reyes muses. “I think it’s because we weren’t able to end it the way we wanted to. There was no definitive ending that we wanted. That void made us immortal.”
This is also the reason why two decades and five years later the show’s avid fans continue to beg for a reunion project. Direk Mark admits it’s really in the pipeline, but because of the pandemic, plans had to be pushed back. “I’m still hoping we could do it this year,” he says with optimism, adding that the T.G.I.S. barkada are in constant touch on Viber.
In this Q&A, we grilled Reyes on the good old days of T.G.I.S..
Take us back to the auditions.
Angelu de Leon was a given. VIVA told us, “We have this talent, Angelu de Leon.” So what we had to do was audition people who will fill in the other characters para mabuo ang barkada.
Right at the start, there were already standouts. Bobby [Andrews] was a standout. His character kasi was the typical konyo na tisoy. So when Bobby came in, he was perfect [for the role]. He’s the LaSallista, the Atenista figure of the barkada. The rich kid.
Michael [Flores] coming from the Manoeuvres [dance group] was definitely a shoo-in because not only was he an actor, he was also a dancer. At that time, that boy dance group was a big thing.
Red Sternberg naman was very fresh. He had this impish, naughty, nerdy kind of persona. And he’s really a nerd—the guy knows computers like anything. He was a shoo-in also.
The nightmare was getting the right Cristina. We couldn’t find someone we like for the role. We saw [Raven Villanueva] on the last day of the taping of the pilot episode. We liked her right away, but we didn’t like the color of her hair because it was very light and Cris is supposed to have dark hair, so we had to have her hair colored overnight in time for the taping the following day.
Tell us about working with that gang.
Bobby was the one that I talk a lot to because he was the most mature on the set. If I were the coach, he’d be the team captain. Siya yung, “Hey guys, come on. Stop playing around already.” He was easiest to deal with.
The girls (Angelu, Raven, Ciara and Rica) will have their fingers all over me, they’d make lambing and I’d give in. They get away with a lot of things, more than the boys. The boys would sometimes complain, “How come they’re magulo?” I’d say, “Shut up they’re girls.” It was easy working with them. Then if there are girl issues, I would let [the show’s writer] Kit Villanueva or Veronique del Rosario take care of it. (Laughs.)
Red and I were both from Pasay. And because we had something in common, we clicked and understood each other right away.
Michael was difficult, he was a brat! Because he was with Manoevres, he had that sense na “I’m a cool guy,” “I’m like this, I’m like that.” It was fun to tame him down and to mold into what he was in the show.
When I first saw Onemig [Bondoc], I told Veronique, “Please get this guy. He has no bad angle.” And we need another cute guy. Buti na lang, Onemig decided to join us.
What was the first day of taping like?
[We did the shoot] at Capitol Homes in Quezon City. That was the house of Peachy, that was where the tambayan was. That was where we shot most of the episodes.
The first day of shoot was chaotic because besides the teenagers, we also had the younger set—sina Lester Llansang, Idelle Martinez, Chantal Umali, so we had kids and teenagers all in one set. Maybelline dela Cruz and Angelu de Leon were the only ones at that time who had experience in acting for television. The rest were newbies. So it was a learning curve for everyone.
Where were you on the day it premiered?
We were actually taping on the day it first aired. We watched the show together on the set. Then after that 45 minutes, okay back to work. We didn’t realize how special it was until the second season came in. You’d see them all over the place, and that’s when we realized that “Oh my God, we have got something special here.” When ABS-CBN did Gimik, that’s the validation that we made something really successful.
What was your first impression of the project? Did you think early on it would fly?
You know what? I had the courage of ignorance at that time because I was a gung-ho writer-director. I was young so I didn’t know the reality of television. I just wrote/directed something that was real to me. A barkada that will get together in someone’s house, and then all the stories of life, from the mundane things to the heartaches, to the most profound thing like drugs, alcohol, losing a parent, teenage pregnancy. It was something that was real to me, so it was easy to do.
But television is masa oriented, even until now. So when I started doing this burgis kind of show, people were telling me, “Dapat babaan mo ang level ng T.G.I.S.. No one’s going to watch you. Masa dapat yan!” And then there was no audience at that time. For one season, I was pushing for what I wanted, what I believed in. When we’re up on our 13th episode, GMA was about to pull the plug already. They said “We don’t see that there’s a market for it.” But I wasn’t afraid to tell the network, “No! Give us one season and we’ll prove it to you.” No one in his right mind will tell a network that now, but I was audacious! Then they said, “We’ll give you a few more episodes, but be ready to be pulled off the air.”
What was the turning point for the show?
When I decided to give the audience something more substantial. I decided on the child abuse storyline. Jao Mapa was the guest. That was one of our darker episodes. And then something just clicked in that episode that people started to realize that we could be as serious as we wanted it to be, and not just a bubblegum teenage show.
Then it picked up from the 13th, 14th episode. The ratings were sky high enough for it to become phenomenal around the country.
Then VIVA decided to produce a movie. That was another phenomenon. T.G.I.S. The Movie was one of the highest, most successful youth-oriented movies in the Philippines. It ran for two months. It beat out Space Jam and other Hollywood movies that were pitted against it.
These are teenagers who are makukulit. Were there times when you lost your patience?
Hahaha! Of course! So many times. Every time we go on a long break, say during Christmas season, then they go back to the first taping day, oh my God, they don’t listen to me! All they do is talk to each other, catch up with what happened. When we’re about to roll cameras already, nagdadaldalan pa din. As in down to the counting 5-4-3-2-1. So I would really get mad at them, especially the girls, sina Ciara, Angelu, Rica. The girls were really magulo.
There was also a time when the pressure was on us because we were doing T.G.I.S. The Movie and T.G.I.S. the series at the same time. We would end up doing the series, then we’ll just sleep in the car going to Batangas to shoot the movie. Everyone was stressed out already, then Onemig was late. Red was saying, “Direk pag dumating yun, susuntukin ko talaga yun.” Out of frustration, I might have said, “E di suntukin mo.” Next thing I know, Red was already hitting Onemig. I said, “Holy sh**t!” That was one time that I got really mad.
What was the world like back then?
A lot of things happened in technology in those five years (1994-1999). We started off with pagers. We even had a commercial for Easy Call that featured the T.G.I.S.. Then the cell phones came in—the bulky big ones. But there was no SMS yet then. Towards Growing Up, there’s texting already. So we were able to go through all that. There was no social media, but there was the internet already. The magazines were a big thing back then.
How did T.G.I.S. change your life?
I’d bump into people who would tell me how I had inspired them in their younger years, how the entertainment that the show provided helped them cope with their miserable life. I meet this generation of ‘90s kids who are now running the country, and they’d tell me that they got lessons from T.G.I.S..
Back then, uso pa ang fan mails. I would get fan mails from parents saying, “Thank you because of T.G.I.S., I got to understand my kids more. On Saturday afternoons, we would sit down to watch the show together as a family.”
I remember one particular fan that had cancer. She said the only thing that was keeping her positive and happy was T.G.I.S.. She passed away on the second year of the show. So that was sad. But those things you don’t get in any other job.
I’m sure there were bumps along the road. What were they?
Controversy was around. Onemig was thinking I was favoring the other boys over him, which wasn’t true, and then he transferred to ABS-CBN at that time. I had a falling out with Angelu also at that time. That’s also water under the bridge now, we’re all so close together now. There were bumps along the road, yes, but these made the journey worth it.
How did you feel back then when Angelu and Raven got pregnant?
I felt bad. I wasn’t taking it professionally, I was taking it personally, because the magic of the show is for them to be together. And then the minute someone says goodbye, I know we will have a hard time still having the essence of T.G.I.S.
When did you guys decide that it was the end of the road for the show?
People outgrew us, because once they saw that there were unfamiliar faces already, it wasn’t the original gang that they enjoyed, that they grew up with, it was a different show already. But I cannot blame Angelu and Raven because it’s life, and T.G.I.S. is just a TV show. When they left, we tried to hold on as much as possible, but the magic wasn’t there anymore. I knew at that time, that we’re gonna close soon because it’s not rating as well as it should be. If we had the choice, maybe we could have ended it earlier, but because we had commitments, we extended it as much as we can, and when the station finally told us to end it, that’s when we decided na, I think we should. The show ended, but not our friendship.