Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto and Joey de Leon were in stitches one-and-a-half hours into the Saturday’s initial three-hour telecast of “E. A. T.,” the new variety program they host that replaces “It’s Showtime” in the noontime slot on TV5.
It was easily one of the biggest TV events of the year, after weeks of strained corporate ties, copyright issues and hurt feelings that publicly played out over the future of “Eat Bulaga!,” the 44-year-old show formerly top-billed by the trio but now handled by a different set of celebrities on GMA.
But while the catchy merrymaking seen in E. A. T.’s “Tough Hits” segment was an eagerly anticipated return to form for “TVJ” and their co-hosts, who call themselves “the Legit Dabarkads,” it was in stark contrast to the heartwarming and deeply emotional welcome that greeted TVJ when the clock struck 12.
As they made their way to the narrower-than-usual stage and serenaded the studio audience with VST & Company’s “Ikaw ang Aking Mahal,” the seasoned hosts and comedians couldn’t control their emotion, wiping away tears in between clever wisecracks and spiels. The sight of the three getting very emotional was more than enough to tug at viewers’ heartstrings.
But what exactly does E.A.T mean? They gave different answers: From “Eto Ang Totoo” (It’s the real thing), “Everyday Ang Tawanan” (A daily dose of laughter), to “Eto Ang Tinadhana” (This is meant to be).
Aside from cohosts Jose Manalo, Wally Bayola, Paolo Ballesteros, Ryan Agoncillo, Allan K, Ryza Mae Dizon, Carren Eistrup and Maine Mendoza, Tito, Vic and Joey were also joined in the studio by members of their respective families, including Tito’s wife, Helen Gamboa-Sotto, Vic’s son and incumbent Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto, and niece Sharon Cuneta.
The trio, with their self-deprecating Dabarkads in tow, has always used their offbeat brand of humor and music to plug into the zeitgeist. True enough, the new show effectively fielded what looked like a “greatest hits” lineup, fueled by segments that were entertaining as all get-out and funny enough to generate “isang libo’t-isang tuwa” (a thousand and one joys)—the enduring credo that the variety program has lived by since 1979.
All throughout the proceedings, the hosts’ scripted and improvisational spiels were of the winking and nostalgic sort—like their references to TVJ’s well-loved sitcom “Iskul Bukol” and Wanbol University, as well as the aptly sung lyrics to “Kahit Maputi na Ang Buhok Ko.”
And while new generations of social media-weaned personalities have since seized the spotlight from older and more mature hosts, TVJ’s collective skills prove that decadeslong experience and time-honed comedic chops can readily trounce flashy but ultimately shallow antics.
The show may still be rough around the edges while it finds its footing in its new home, but its music-and-gags style more than makes up for its awkward and dead-air moments. Moreover, when TVJ, the Dabarkads and their avid viewers rock to the beat of “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko” and “Rock Baby Rock,” you know that things can only get better in the coming days.
It is the sort of opening that easily lived up to the hype surrounding the group’s return to the small screen. In fact, five hours before the team took the TV5 stage in Mandaluyong City, half of Reliance Street in front of TV5 Media Center was already swarming with people raring for a chance to watch the show live.
The buzz was just as loud online. More than 190,000 viewers tuned in to TV5’s YouTube channel 20 minutes before the program’s famous jingle began teasing the entrance of its hosts.
By 1:20 p.m., the show was being watched by 248,000 viewers. In contrast, the initial broadcast of the “rehomed” “Showtime” on GTV had 124,000 viewers at about the same period. And by the time “E.A.T.” wrapped at past 3 p.m., more than 300,000 viewers were tuning in.
The excitement surrounding the show’s TV5 transfer started building up after TVJ severed their 44-year partnership with TAPE Inc., which produces “Eat Bulaga” on GMA, on May 31. Adding to the fever-pitch interest in the issue is the speculation over ownership of the show’s title. “Hinihintay pa rin namin ang pag-uwi ng pangalang itinawag sa amin for 44 years (we await the homecoming of the name that we’ve been called for 44 years),” said Vic in his closing spiel.
And while the show and its three main hosts may have lived through eight presidents in four TV stations, there’s one thing they said they’re more certain about: “Mahal N’yo kami! (You love us).”