MANILA — The decade-old "It's Showtime" is one of the ABS-CBN programs resuming production amid eased lockdown measures during the coronavirus pandemic.
After nearly three months, "It's Showtime" is heading back to its ABS-CBN studio, airing live episodes starting June 13 via Kapamilya Channel.
The channel switch — from free TV to cable — is only one of many major changes to the noontime program; the others owing to the "new normal" ushered in by the pandemic.
On Tuesday, its creative head and original mainstays, Vhong Navarro and Jhong Hilario, detailed what to expect from the revamped "It's Showtime."
NO MADLANG PEOPLE, FOR NOW
For one, while the program will be held for the first time since mid-March inside its Quezon City studio, there won't be any live audience or "madlang people."
The same was seen in the week leading up to the Luzon lockdown, which effectively put showbiz on pause. "It's Showtime" had started to implement its own safety measures, including physical distancing, until production was suspended altogether.
For weeks during the lockdown — and prior to the government closure of ABS-CBN's free TV broadcast — "It's Showtime" shifted to virtual production, with hosts and contestants participating via conference call, aired live on television.
"Sobrang laki ng adjustment namin," Hilario said of that time. "Ang hirap na mapagtawa na wala kang kasama. Ang hirap bumato na ang kausap mo lang ay 'yung mukha ng isang tao. Meron kang gustong gawin, meron kang gustong ibato na hindi mo magawa dahil hindi mo maramdaman dahil wala siya sa tabi mo, eh. Iyon 'yung hirap ng adjustment."
Over the years since its 2009 premiere, and across iterations from a morning talent show to the network's flasghip variety program, "It's Showtime" has become known for the natural, comedic interactions among its co-hosts, who consider themselves "family" in real life.
Its Zoom phase during the initial quarantine, understantably, proved challenging.
"Iyong timing, pag nag-ho-host ka, napuputol, kasi nga pag nawala 'yung signal, mawawala 'yung banter, hindi mo maka-catch up agad," Navarro explained.
Finally coming face to face starting June 13, that's at least one problem now addressed. The lack of a studio audience, however, is another to get used to, they admitted.
The energy that sustains them through a three-hour live show, they draw largely from the "madlang people," Navarro and Hilario agreed.
"For 10 years nasanay kaming may audience," Navarro noted. "Ang ganda kasi pag pagod ka, may pinagdadaanan ka sa buhay, pag nakikita mo silang ngumingiti, tumatawa pag nakikita ka, dahil sa mga ginagawa mo, ang sarap. 'Yung pinagdaanan mo na 'yun, nalilimutan mo pansamantala, kasi 'yung obligasyon mo, 'yung binigay sa 'yo ni God na talento na magpasaya ng tao, ay nagagampanan mo."
"Hindi tulad ng pag walang live audience, hindi mo alam kung nagampanan mo, kasi tatawid ka pa sa TV at walang balik sa 'yo. Iba 'yung tawanan nila, 'yung iniiyak-tawa nila. Pero ngayon dahil sa social distancing at wala kang studio audience, paano? Sa new normal, may malaking pagbabago talaga, at iyon ang hindi ko alam kung kailan maibabalik."
Hilario was hopeful, saying "It's Showtime" is known for its track record of constantly devising new ways to entertain its audience.
"Ang hirap na nagpapatawa ka na walang audience, 'yung hindi mo maramdaman 'yung balik ng appreciation sa mga jokes mo, sa mga ginagawa mo. Pero nagawa na namin 'yun, e. Kahit walang audience, knowing Vice Ganda, knowing the rest of 'Showtime,' knowing Direk Bobet (Vidanes) and 'yung magagaling naming writers, gagawa at gagawa ng paraan 'yan para tumawa ang tao, para ma-appreciate ng tao ang ginagawa namin," he said.
Those means come in the form of segments, which, save for one, will be all brand new come June 13.
They have one thing in common, the hosts said. Aside from being entertaining, the segments are all in response to the needs of Filipinos amid the coronavirus crisis.
"1ted: Now Hiring", for instance, aims to help contestants who have lost their jobs by connecting them to companies for possible employment. "PamilyaNaryo", meanwhile, will feature families who have helped others in need during the pandemic.
"Super Fiestars" will highlight different local festivals, in the hope of restoring some semblance of celebration and fun. The singing competition "Tawag ng Tanghalan" will now include a barangay component, with winning hopefuls getting to help their place of residence.
"Ang kaibahan ngayon ng 'Showtime,' since marami rin ang nagbago sa mundo, nagbago rin ang pangangailangan ng mga tao," Evette Borromeo, creative manager of "It's Showtime," said. "Kaya kami, aside from just being the stage for the madlang people, we want to be the bridge para makatulong sa communities at makapagbigay ng opportunities din."
"Bawat segment namin, that's what we think about. Not just to give entertainment and fun, but to help them, para sabay-sabay tayong makabangon mula sa pandemya at sa challenging situation that we are in right now."
Hilario added: "Gusto namin 'yung mga talent ng madlang people na hindi na magawa ngayon dahil sa pandemic, maidala sa 'Showtime' para mabigyan ulit sila ng chance."
Contestants will participate either virtually or in person. In the latter's case, a rigorous process is already in place to ensure their and the entire program's safety.
Those appearing in the studio are required first to self-quarantine for 14 days, after which they will undergo rapid testing, Borremeo said. Results will determine if they can push through. The "lock-in" will be courtesy of the program.
Owing to physical distancing, the studio will run on limited capacity, Borromeo pointed out, so only a handful of contestants are allowed in during any given episode.
In PamilyaNaryo, for example, families will have a representative instead of being brought in as a group. The rest will participate through video call, as in the case of a singing hopeful's barangay in Tawag ng Tanghalan.
Prior to the lockdown, the singing competition was already holding auditions exclusively online. That practice, which includes so-called "Zoom callbacks," will continue.
Traditionally with five judges during daily rounds, Tawag ng Tanghalan is trimming that number to three inside the studio.
The hosts, too, will be limited. Vice Ganda, Navarro, Hilario, and Karylle will be there physically throughout the week, while Amy Perez, Ryan Bang, Jugs Jugueta, and Teddy Corpuz will alternate between virtual and in-person hosting, according to Borromeo. Anne Curtis remains in Melbourne, Australia, where she gave birth in March.
Similar rotations are planned for the program's resident groups — Hashtags, Bidaman, XB GenSan, and Showtime Dancers, among others — as they can no longer perform in close proximity to each other.
In Borromeo's words, "It's Showtime" is "managing the traffic" within its studio — and implementing a work flow that eliminates unnecessary physical contact — so as to minimize any health risk.
Navarro and Hilario, while both excited to return to the studio, were admittedly concerned for their colleagues whose programs have yet to resume, whether due to the lasting impacts of the pandemic or the ABS-CBN shutdown, or both.
But for Hilario, "It's Showtime's" comeback despite those odds symbolizes something which the rest of showbiz and its workers can hold on to.
"Hope. Hope para sa lahat. Hope para sa amin. Hope para sa madlang people," he said.