The Bookshelf: Unwitting discoveries

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Riveting stories are always about journeys. Miguel de Cervantes’s story of Don Quixote, considered a seminal work of modern Western literature (and which I have yet to read) sets out the classic plot of a literal expedition and the discoveries its protagonists make on their way from point A to B.

In others, the journey itself is the discovery. But perhaps nowhere else do characters uncover unexpected finds and realizations than in detective stories and science fiction.

Continuing my current reading habit of two genre authors, I went along a journey down two roads. One led to the early 20th century, and the other, millions of years in the past. And like the people on those trails, I was riveted by what I found. And what I found made me want to re-read them to see what I missed the first time.

The Secret of Chimneys

(Agatha Christie, 1925)

Cover of Agatha Christie The Secret of ChimneysChimneys is a centuries-old English mansion and, like in other Christie mysteries, the setting of a murder mystery. But this story starts farther down in South Africa, where a chance reunion thrusts two intriguing errands on adventure-loving Anthony Cade.

First was to deliver to a publisher in London the hand-written memoirs of a count from the fictional nation of Herzoslovakia. The Central European country was fresh from a revolution yet was already stirring for another upheaval. Then, Anthony has to return a stack of racy letters to a Mrs. Virginia Revel.

Both manuscripts are potentially scandalous, but hardly seemed connected. Little did Anthony Cade know that he has signed up for a bigger job than just a delivery. He learns, for one, that the letters and the memoirs are connected to a conspiracy at Chimneys.

Agatha Christie drops the revelations little by little like a trail of bread crumbs. We find that characters are not who they introduce themselves at first. And while the story follows Anthony Cade, even he is not safe from our suspicions of the culprit.

The story’s geopolitical bent introduces us not just to Englishmen and Herzoslovaks, but also to an American and a Frenchman. Even the bit players make lasting impressions. The handful of women, meanwhile, call to mind Agatha Christie’s template for heroines. Some turn out rendering more essential roles.

There are no dragging moments or long episodes that disconnect you from the flow of the story. The mysteries are aplenty, going beyond just a mere murder.

Does Anthony fulfill his two errands? How connected is he to this unrelated business? Who is the murderer? And why the fuss about Chimneys? That’s what we not only discover. But as we can expect from Christie, there’s always a love story somewhere in there.

End of an Era

(Robert J. Sawyer, 1994)

Cover of Robert J Sawyer novel End of an EraIn this contemporary setting, time travel has become a reality. And the first big jump or “Throwback” to the past takes the travelers way, way into prehistory—the Mesozoic or dinosaur era, some 65 million years ago. It only fitted that scientists were chosen for the ride.

They were biologist Brandon Thackeray and geologist Miles “Klicks” Jordan, associates-turned-rivals in both trade and in life. Aside from collecting specimens and documenting their 64-hour stop, they hoped to answer one big mystery—how did the dinosaurs die out?

The scientists explore as far as their feet—and a Jeep they brought along–can take them. They’re not even sure if they dropped into the right period. The Earth they arrived in had lighter gravity, explaining the great heights the dinosaurs grew to. A second moon lit the night. And did those dinosaurs just speak to them?

We read Brandon’s log of the journey, complete with his impressions and frustrations. Yet near the middle, the story reveals another narrative starring the same people in starkly different circumstances. The link between the past and the present grows clear as the story ticks a “countdown” toward Zero Hour.

The unfamiliar reader can get lost in the host of dinosaurs identified throughout the story. But the science behind the possibilities in this novel is compelling and convincing. It’s a blend of various fields–paleontology, astronomy, and physics. The book takes time to explain the mechanics of time travel, the device used, and the

Robert Sawyer also tackles some of science’s more popular assumptions about what caused the mass extinctions at the end of the Mesozoic era. Brandon and Klicks are even on opposite ends of the debate. Will they find out who’s right?

But beyond the mind-tickling prospects, Sawyer weaves personal and soul-searching issues into his tale, letting the less-scientifically-literate relate. The small cast makes life-and-death decisions and faces the complexities of tampering with time (a.k.a. The Butterfly Effect).

Ultimately, Brandon and Klicks find that their expedition has far-reaching effects not just on their lives but even on others they haven’t met.

—————-

*My other reviews of Agatha Christie’s books:

Intro to Christie

Agatha Christie’s Heroines

*I also review Sawyer’s “Calculating God”. You can read it here.

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The Bookshelf: ‘Calculating God’

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

"Calculating God" by Robert J. SawyerWould we treat the truth differently depending on who tells it?

In “Calculating God”, authored by science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer (of “FlashForward” fame), a Canadian paleontologist is surprised to find he is the first human being asked for by the first extraterrestrial who visits Earth.

When Dr. Thomas Jericho meets Hollus, a Forhilnor from a planet in the constellation Hydrus, he is surprised to learn that the alien is also a scientist here for research. What startles him more is the alien’s research goal: to find God.

He is used to hearing it from other humans. Now the atheistic Jericho is forced to confront arguments for an intelligent designer of the universe from not just one, but two other species more scientifically advanced than humans.

He soon learns from the Forhilnors and the Wreeds (of a planet in the constellation Pavo) that all their races had developed—evolved—simultaneously, and that crucial cataclysmic events intervened in their history at the same times. What they don’t know is why.

Jericho faces his own beliefs about God as his interactions with Hollus deepen and he comes to terms with his own mortality.

The question of God’s existence is hardly a given in science. Often it is a personal matter and one supposedly confined to the realm of religion and opinion. In one of Hollus’ and Jericho’s early conversations, it is the alien’s turn to be surprised that a creator is not considered scientific fact here.

“There is no indisputable proof for the big bang,” Hollus told Jericho. “And there is none for evolution. And yet you accept those. Why hold the question of  whether there is a creator to a higher standard?” Jericho knows no good answer.

Robert J. Sawyer navigates this search for God well—acknowledging it as a single person’s journey, yet never forgetting the global repercussions. He probes thought-provoking questions and puts in a backgrounder of the creation-evolution debate.

Artist James Beveridge's impression of the extraterrestrial Hollus and human Dr. Thomas Jericho from Robert J. Sawyer's novel "Calculating God"

Hollus and Dr. Jericho as drawn by artist James Beveridge.

More admirable are the well-thought-of details: how the aliens look like and how their minds work as a result of their biological makeup. Hollus even pokes fun at popular culture’s images of extraterrestrials and how they are hardly different from humans.

As Sawyer presents what seems to be the majority view of the scientific community against divinity, he also goes the other way. Jericho’s wife is a churchgoer whose belief in God is a source of comfort but is not overtly deep.

Sawyer devotes more space to the other end of the spectrum: “Christian” extremists who resort to bombing abortion clinics and even natural museums. To them, fossils are “tests”, deceptions created by the Devil.

One question undeniably comes up when reading—on which side does Sawyer lean? He ends up portraying a different image of God, which accompanies Dr. Jericho’s “see it to believe it” mindset.

Then again, Jericho’s thoughts also answer that by pointing to “Contact,” a novel by U.S. astronomer Carl Sagan. There the known atheist writes that an intelligence “antedates the universe”.

“Carl was no more obliged to believe what he wrote in his sole work of fiction than George Lucas was required to believe in the Force,” mused Jericho.

The God they find might not meet the expectations of those with a firm belief of the divine. For others, it may be as real as they expect it to get. The book is fiction, yet the question of what to do about God is the query of the ages.

It does seem that to the believer, no evidence will be necessary, and to the unbeliever, no evidence will be enough. But like the climax of “Calculating God”, the day will come that this question will be answered beyond any doubt.

Previous “Bookshelf” picks:

Lessons from ABS-CBN’s ‘Kapitan’

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Cover of "Kapitan: Geny Lopez and the Making of ABS-CBN" by Raul Rodrigo

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

I loaned “Kapitan: Geny Lopez and the Making of ABS-CBN” from the company library for research. But only when I had to return it did I start reading the coffee-table book cover to cover. It took two days, one of which took an entire afternoon.
ABS-CBN 60 years of Philippine Television logo

The book’s subject matter is daunting. It squeezes 55 years of Philippine television—not just ABS-CBN—into 450 pages. Eugenio Lopez, Jr., who did not start the network but steered it to dominance, actually figures in only less than three-fourths of its pages.

The late author Raul Rodrigo begins not with the birth of Lopez, but with the conception of Bolinao Electronics Corporation (ABS-CBN’s corporate predecessor) in 1946. Likewise, Rodrigo’s flash-forward mentions go way beyond Lopez’s death on June 29, 1999.

The influence of “Kapitan” (an honorific christened him by employees) nonetheless comes up in each turn of the page, especially in anecdotes that have grown part of company lore.

In marking 60 years of television in the Philippines and the 14th anniversary of Geny Lopez’s death, here are some notes on his personal philosophy and management style:

Continue reading

The Bookshelf: Great expectations, great discontent

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Book Cover: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens c/o Penguin ClassicsWho doesn’t want instant fortune? The rags-to-riches dream is so ingrained in popular culture we spot it from game shows to get-rich-quick schemes. One ‘90s Hollywood movie where Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda split a lottery ticket as a tip puts it this way: “It Could Happen To You”. What if it did?

That’s the surprise that met Pip. An orphan raised by his domineering sister and her blacksmith husband, the teenage Pip one day learns he has “come into fortune”.

The catch–Pip cannot know who the source of his fortune is until his benefactor says so.

Pip’s self-told story takes him from the foggy marshes of Kent to the seedy apartments of 1800s London, where he tries to shut out his erstwhile life and pursue his dream of becoming a gentleman.

Still, the past catches up with him through the characters he meets in the city–each holding connections to his childhood. Some have never left his mind–most especially Estella, Pip’s unrequited childhood love.

But Pip’s supposedly-unlimited fortune slowly alters him and how he treats those close to him. Only his devotion to the indifferent Estella grows, fed by a notion that her hand is part of his “expectations”.

Then his patron shows up one night.

Charles Dickens first released “Great Expectations” in weekly installments over nearly nine months. It explains the novel’s length and the plot’s intriguing twists and turns.

Dickens relies heavily on descriptive scene-setting to transit us between acts. But it can go too far for the 21st-century non-native English speaker, who has to read aloud through many an “accented” dialogue.

Writing style aside, he weaves a classic morality tale of how wealth can corrupt and how gaining the world never guarantees satisfaction.

We watch Pip trickle then tumble down, wondering if he’ll turn back. Yet he narrates with a certain naïveté that you think he remains the child who was terrified by an escaped convict at the beginning. I had to visualize him a little older as the chapters progressed. But even early on he describes his surroundings with a measure of wit and irreverence mature for his years.

While Pip is faulty and can be stubborn to change, we feel for him and take his side. And no other aspect of his story makes the reader relate to him more than his feelings for Estella.

Pip and Miss Havisham, played by Helena Bonham Carter in the most recent movie version of Great Expectations (Courtesy Telegraph.co.uk)

Pip and Miss Havisham, played by Helena Bonham Carter in the most recent movie version (Courtesy Telegraph.co.uk)

“Great Expectations” also hits at the reality of love’s expectations. Case in point: Estella’s guardian Miss Havisham, a rich old spinster embittered by a lover’s deceit. Under her influence, Estella grows up to spurn Pip’s unwavering affections.

Pip’s other relationships have bright sides nonetheless. We admire friends like Joe, Biddy, Wemmick, and Herbert, who stay behind him through his slips and slumps. Amid the restlessness and uncertainty of Pip’s future, their scenes also lead us to smile, chuckle, even shed a happy tear.

They make us trust that second chances are possible. And we hang on to see if these chances happen in the end. They can be a fresh start at making a living, a chance to love again, or a redemption from past wrong.

Like Pip, his friends, and their “great expectations”, our own collective discontent is a hint at something better ahead.

(I read the free e-text version of the book at Project Gutenberg. Get it here.)

*Past bookshelf reviews:

Philippine TV trends of 2012 (Part 3)

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

(Last of three parts. Read Part 1 / Part 2)

2. HASHTAG FEVER

While a world of its own, the Twitterverse has also become a second home for television—the Philippines included. Viewers take to social media to comment on shows they are watching, a number to support or bash the personalities starring in them.

Netizens use the # or hash sign to mark names, topics, or phrases dominating the online conversation.

Twitter hashtags in the Philippines for 2012: #salamatDolphy #itsmorefuninthePhilippines #TVPatrol25 #CJonTrial #GGV #KMJS #Amalayer #MissPHILIPPINESforMissUniverse2012 #PartyPilipinas #MYRVESMonopolizesDAVAO #XFactorPH #RatedK #rescuePH #ASAPRocks #Angelito2 #PrincessandI #MalingMali #PBBTeens #PinoyTrueStories #ProtegeShock #WalangPasok

At first these “hashtags” emerged during live TV events, such as the finales of reality shows like “Pinoy Big Brother”. The hashtags gain consensus among Twitter users before making the site’s “Trending Topics” list.

TV networks and shows soon put up Twitter handles of their own, opening a line of feedback to the public.

Since tweets with specific hashtags could be monitored, news organizations have used them for special coverages too. For instance, the #Harapan#Halalan and #Eleksyon2010 tags in 2010. In 2012, news orgs followed the Corona impeachment trial with hashtags like #CJonTrial. And newscast TV Patrol welcomed its 25th year in 2012 with #TVPatrol25.

By picking a particular hashtag, TV shows can track all tweets directed at them and gain exposure (and more viewers) when the hashtag trends.

2012 saw pre-recorded shows like soap operas, sitcoms and documentaries also jump on the hashtag bandwagon.

Some programs merely flashed the hashtag at the beginning or end of each segment. Others like live productions constantly showed their hashtags onscreen during the entire telecast. Shows like “Party Pilipinas” and “The X-Factor Philippines” even made distinct ones based on the themes of their weekly episodes.

But even as TV shows tried to direct the tweets, viewers still dictated what would trend. The best example for the year are the weekly trending topics based on the guests of the late-night comedy talk show “Gandang Gabi Vice”.

1. MEETING THE THIRST FOR NEWS

Viewers gained much in the way of news and information in 2012. TV news met reenergized content and new players, all in time for Filipinos to face the big events of the year.

Philippine Primetime weather anchors: Kim Atienza of TV Patrol; Nathaniel Cruz of 24 Oras; Lourd de Veyra of Aksyon; and Mai Rodriguez of Solar Network News

Primetime weather anchors: Kim Atienza of TV Patrol; Nathaniel Cruz of 24 Oras; Lourd de Veyra of Aksyon; and Mai Rodriguez of Solar Network News

The newscasts increased emphasis on weather reporting by acquiring advanced forecasting tools, updating their visuals, and even hiring meteorologists.

With services like Metra and Weather Central, weather reporters went beyond general temperatures to predict the likelihood of rain, the amount of rainfall, and specific conditions at different times of day.

The new tools came in handy as the country braved calamities like the Hagupit ng Habagat and Typhoon Pablo.

2012 was also the year of news channels, which stood out during the Corona impeachment trial.

The trial became the premiere for the new kid on the block—Solar News Channel. Free-to-air and all-English, Solar took off from its wall-to-wall coverage of the trial and slowly introduced newscasts into previous channel TalkTV.

In October, TalkTV rebranded into SNC and unveiled a slew of local news talk shows to complement its lineup of imported current affairs programs.

Jing Magsaysay and Pia Hontiveros at the Solar remote studio in the Senate during the Corona trial. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Magsaysay and Hontiveros at the Solar remote studio in the Senate during the Corona trial.

Solar News Channel is billed as a news service highlighting “news you can use” over the crime-and-entertainment offerings of other TV news organizations. It is helmed by veteran reporters Jing Magsaysay and Pia Hontiveros, both formerly with the ABS-CBN News Channel or ANC.

ANC lost other talents like Mai Rodriguez and Twink Macaraig to Solar and other networks last year. Macaraig moved to TV5, which is expected to put out its own English news channel.

Macaraig left ANC’s afternoon shift, which the channel replaced with a new block of newscasts with specific focuses. “News Now” covers breaking national stories at 2 p.m. and business stories at 3 p.m. “The Bureau” reports world news, while “@ANCalerts” reports the latest in technology and social media.

Even government-owned People’s Television Network (PTV 4) was revitalized with revamped programs, a new logo, and a bold slogan—“Telebisyon ng Bayan”.

Aiming to lessen its image as the administration propaganda arm, PTV still airs infomercials in the afternoon. But an ongoing congressional review of its charter promises the public channel less restrictions on its sources of funding, and an opportunity of going against the commercial channels.

Logos of Philippine TV news channels: ANC, Aksyon TV, DZMM Teleradyo, GNN, GMA News TV, RH TV, PTV 4, Solar News Channel

The Philippines’ news channels as of 2012

GMA News TV continues its streak as the most-watched news channel, while introducing entertainment programs such as classic movies to its lineup.

TV5’s Aksyon TV channel stepped up production of current affairs shows last year, after many of those airing on the main channel were replaced by a daily newsmagazine, “Reaksyon”.

As the networks focus on separate news channels, among the casualties are midday newscasts “Balitaang Tapat” of TV5 and “Iba-Balita Ngayon” of Studio 23, which went off the air this year.

But clearly media companies are recognizing that Filipinos are not only hooked to variety shows and teleseryes, and that there aren’t enough sources of news on TV.

*Read PART 1 & PART 2.

(Do you agree with this list or have your own idea of 2012’s top TV trends? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments section.)

——————

Related 2012 Yearenders online:

PinoyJournalist blog thumbnail 
  This blog’s Most-visited posts for 2012
 
 
ABS-CBN News.com logo 
  ABS-CBNnews.com’s Top stories for 2012
 
 
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility logo 
CMFR’s “The year that was in the news media” 
New players in the media landscape
 
 
Media newser Philippines logo The big news in TV news for 2012, according to MediaNewser Philippines.

Philippine TV trends of 2012 (Part 2)

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

*Read PART 1 here.

4. DAYTIME GOLD

During the past decade, locally-produced teleseryes vanished from the late morning lineup. Late examples were the GMA 7 series “Kirara”. The airtime between the morning cartoons and the lunchtime shows often went to animé, old movies and foreign soaps.

In 2004, ABS-CBN tried out game show “Game KNB?” on the slot, and in 2009, talent show “Showtime”. TV5 shook viewers in 2010 with its confrontational talk show “Face To Face”.

Then in 2012, ABS-CBN folded up “Happy Yipee Yehey,” its attempt against noontime champ “Eat Bulaga” after Willie Revillame left the show “Wowowee”. “Showtime” was moved and reformatted into a lunchtime variety show, leaving its old timeslot open.

Be Careful With My Heart title cardWith Korean soap “Two Wives” as a pre-program, ABS-CBN premiered “Be Careful With My Heart,” a light-hearted romantic comedy starring actress Jodi Sta. Maria and older newbie actor Richard Yap.

It was a gamble that paid off into 2012’s biggest hit.

Straight away, “Be Careful” topped the daytime ratings on its first week, with shares rivaling that of “Eat Bulaga” and even a number of primetime shows.

The storyline is not entirely original. “Be Careful” is a breezier “Wanted: Perfect Mother”. And romantic comedies are sure hits in the local cinema, but not yet on TV.

The untried casting of artists and a plot revolving on the secret feelings between the lead characters, boosted the show’s appeal. More so, the bright and cheery mood of the series was apt for the timeslot.

“Be Careful” was also a boost for ABS-CBN, which had long been looking for a lead in the daytime block dominated by GMA 7 and even TV5. And the thrust did not come from the traditional afternoon lineup.

GMA 7 tried countering the soap with a replay of its teen primetime series “One True Love”, and later with “Cielo de Angelina”, a short-lived teledrama produced for the slot. Finally the slot was left to cooking show “Chef Boy Logro: Kusina Master”.

Later, ABS-CBN inserted the reality franchise “Master Chef” to successful ratings, and followed it up with the game show “Minute to Win It” in the former timeslot of “Be Careful”. Another romantic comedy series, “Kahit Konting Pagtingin,” is set to follow “Be Careful” to the afternoon block.

Meanwhile, the show that opened ABS-CBN’s daytime to numerous possibilities enters 2013 as ABS-CBN’s lunch-time offering and as a testing ground for other love teams.

3. MATURE THEMES ON PRIMETIME

In February 2012, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board or MTRCB rolled out the SPG rating as a final addition to its moves to standardize the introduction of television shows.

Short for “Strict Parental Guidance” or “Striktong Patnubay at Gabay” in Tagalog, the SPG rating alerts viewers to elements in the shows not suitable for children and may warrant the supervision of elders. The rating includes pointers of, namely, themes, language, violence, sex, horror and drugs.

MTRCB Strict Parental Guidance (SPG) advisory

MTRCB officials consider SPG a more realistic approach to TV ratings, since not all programs with the formerly all-encompassing “Parental Guidance” have the same gravity of material.

The rating can vary per episode. This means show generally rated PG could air episodes with stronger scenes, but only those in the bounds of MTRCB approval.

SPG would have been used for teleseryes like the suspense thriller “Nasaan Ka Elisa?”, which ended a month before the new rating system began airing. The networks usually avoided younger viewers by placing mature shows at the end of the nightly block.

With the SPG rating, the nightly lineups saw primetime shows with markedly-strong installments. Often the sensitive scenes were deemed crucial: a brutal killing that set off a family war saga in “Dahil sa Pag-ibig”, or intimate sequences in “My Beloved”.

Other 2012 soaps were not short in covering mature plotlines—usually relationships.

“Lorenzo’s Time” dealt with the complicated relationship between the protagonist, whose body has remained a boy, and his childhood sweetheart who has grown up. The stars of “Pahiram ng Sandali” struggle with “May-December” romances. And the local adaptation of Korean soap “Temptation of Wife” explores extra-marital affairs.

Nevertheless, the SPG rating has not stopped viewers from watching.

Composite of teleseryes with SPG episode ratings: GMA 7 Pahiram ng Sandali and Temptation of Wife, and ABS-CBN Walang HangganFor instance, an episode of “Walang Hanggan” controversially highlighted a scene where the female lead character Katerina was forced by her husband Nathan to have sex with him. The episode, which carried an SPG warning for themes, violence, and sexual content, won the most viewers that night, and did not deter “Walang Hanggan” from its run as 2012’s highest-rated show in all viewing markets.

The MTRCB touts SPG as an attention-getter for viewers, especially parents, to be vigilant over the viewing habits of minors. But the new rating raises concerns that TV networks might merely try to push the limit of what they could air instead of also being sensitive to younger viewers.

The introduction of SPG has not fundamentally changed the makeup of primetime though. Soaps targeting children or teens and starring actors of the same age bracket still air before and after the primetime newscasts, where wider audiences still watch.

The lineup has also gone all-local. Korean soaps have left the block, some for the afternoons, others to the late-night slots.

Only TV5 kept up counter-programming with game show “Wiltime Big Time” and the reality franchise “The Amazing Race Philippines”. But the channel closed 2013 by culling “Wiltime” from primetime to prop up its own teleseryes in the most-watched hours.

*The top 2012 TV trends on Part 3.

(Do you agree with this list or have your own idea of 2012’s top TV trends? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments section.)

——————

Related 2012 Yearenders online:

PinoyJournalist blog thumbnail 
  This blog’s Most-visited posts for 2012
 
 
ABS-CBN News.com logo 
  ABS-CBNnews.com’s Top stories for 2012
 
 
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility logo 
CMFR’s “The year that was in the news media” 
New players in the media landscape
 
 
Media newser Philippines logo The big news in TV news for 2012, according to MediaNewser Philippines.

On the tube: Philippine TV trends of 2012

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Television still occupies a comfortable high seat in Filipinos’ media consumption.

They spend more time watching TV than their Asian neighbors, what with the tube reaching 98.8 percent of the entire archipelago—the third widest reach in the world in 2010.

But the same Nielsen survey showed that Filipinos are increasingly watching video in platforms other than TV, beating other countries too. Enter the surge of social media and the accessibility of smart phones.

In 2012, Philippine TV networks continuously tried to adapt to this evolving landscape by finding ways to keep viewers glued even as they held second screens. New players entered the field to meet unaddressed programming needs.

Nostalgia also reigned as old formats and shows were resurrected, while experimenting with new lineups yielded surprise results.

All in all, viewers did not let go, awarding TV its biggest spikes in ratings for some time.

Here are the notable ways Philippine television made a mark on viewers in 2012:

7. BIG BROTHER MEETS THE NEWSCAST

Logo of CCTV Patrol Huli Cam 24 Oras Mel TiangcoNews footage courtesy of closed-circuit television or CCTV cameras is no stranger to the local newscasts. Being eyewitnesses to crimes, they save investigators time in reconstructing the act from scratch or pinpointing suspects.

In 2012, the use of CCTVs gained such prevalence that news shows reserved a place for them in their nightly lineups. Segments like “CCTV Patrol” on TV Patrol and “Huli Cam” on 24 Oras became fixtures this year, at times landing top stories when the video is riveting and the news day wanting.

CCTVs are also an expected extension of the video-dependent tabloid TV format Filipinos have been used to.

What’s not to like about CCTVs on TV? For one, they fulfill one TV news value—show the action as it happens—even without a news crew. They show how criminals operate, keeping citizens vigilant. They monitor traffic, saving transmission costs for the TV stations subscribed to their feeds.

Amid the constant presence of crimes in the nightly news, the perceived efficiency of CCTVs in crime-fighting is fueling demand for more of them. Quezon City has already mandated businesses to acquire CCTVs before they could secure business permits.

But the jury is still out on whether CCTVs merely solve crimes already committed rather than also act as crime-deterrents.

Another important aspect of CCTVs  hardly discussed is their effect on privacy, with hundreds of them installed by authorities in Metro Manila alone. While officials say the scope of government-monitored CCTVs can only go as far as public places, it might be unsettling for some that the price of security is the metro becoming one giant “Big Brother” house.

6. CURRENT AFFAIRS RETURNS TO AFTERNOONS

The late afternoons once belonged to current affairs, with shows like “Hoy Gising” and “Balitang K” playing hit lead-ins to TV Patrol. GMA 7 had animé , and later newsmagazine “Extra Extra”.

These shows were succeeded by the “guts and glory” block of shows like “Verum Est”, “Mission X” and “True Crime”, before giving way to reality shows and the Asianovela craze in 2003.

T3 hosts Raffy, Erwin and Ben Tulfo (Screenshot from TV5)

T3 hosts Raffy, Erwin and Ben Tulfo (Grab from TV5)

While dramas still dominate the afternoon lineups, 2012 saw the re-entry of current affairs shows to the 5:00 p.m. timeslot.

TV5 began the shift by prefacing their primetime newscast “Aksyon” with “T3”, a live public service show hosted by the Tulfo brothers. On T3, Ben, Erwin and Raffy Tulfo act on tips and reprimand abuses.

The show made noise last year after elder brother Mon Tulfo figured in a brawl at the airport with actress Claudine Barretto. Mon Tulfo’s brothers railed against Barretto and her husband Raymart Santiago on T3, prompting censors to suspend the show.

T3 returned on the air after a week, later airing exclusives such as the viral video of company executive Blair Carabuena berating a traffic enforcer.

ABS-CBN Pinoy True Stories logo / title cardAt the end of 2012, ABS-CBN unveiled a weekday current affairs block dubbed “Pinoy True Stories”. Each weekday was a show in itself—docu-dramas featuring aspects of day-to-day issues Filipinos face:

  • “Bistado” hosted by Julius Babao resolves abuses and modus operandi.
  • “Engkwentro” with Karen Davila goes to the barangay halls where residents sort out fights and scandals. 
  • “Saklolo” follows Dominic Almelor and Maan Macapagal as they join authorities in rescue operations.
  • On “Demandahan”, Anthony Taberna revisits civil suits decided by the higher courts to answer legal questions.
  • “Hiwaga” with Atom Araullo probes the paranormal.

The new generation of daytime public affairs is more fast-paced and reliant on the latest docu-style cinematography. Yet the shows touch on the same gritty issues and still reinforce the image of media as the public’s last resort.

But if the ratings are any indication, viewers have yet to prefer these real-life dramas over the afternoon soap operas.

5. SHAKE-UPS AND REVIVALS

Public affairs shows were not the only ones being overhauled in 2012.

The TV networks ditched other long-standing program lineups to revitalize stagnant viewership. Along with that, they thought it timely to resurrect hit shows from the past.

Logos / Title cards of GMA 7's 2012 revival shows: Magpakailanman & Extra Challenge

GMA 7 reshuffled its weekend public affairs shows, moving its Saturday night stalwarts “Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho” and “Imbestigador” to Sunday. Friday offering “Tunay na Buhay,” which already aired way after midnight, took “Imbestigador’s” place.

To fill the slot left by “Kapuso Mo,” GMA brought back its former weeknight drama anthology “Magpakailanman,” hosted by news anchor Mel Tiangco. The show again goes head to head with ABS-CBN’s “Maalaala Mo Kaya”, which it had once beat in the ratings game.

Reality TV pioneer “Extra Challenge” also returned as a weekend program on GMA. The show reshaped primetime programming in 2004, but later bowed out to “Pinoy Big Brother”, another reality show.

TV5, meanwhile, revived the ‘90s daytime telenovela “Valiente” for primetime. Unlike its predecessor that  extended five years, the new “Valiente” ran only a few months.

Composite logo of rerun cable channels Jeepney TV and FOX FilipinoOn Channel 2, vintage episodes of “Maalaala Mo Kaya” were re-aired as “MMK Klasiks” on the weekday afternoon block.

But the ultimate nostalgia trip of 2012 is the launch of new cable channels Jeepney TV and FOX Filipino.

FOX Filipino features defunct drama series and newsmagazines from recent years, among them the GMA 7 adaptation of “Marimar” and “Pinoy Abroad”.

Jeepney TV’s lineup is filled with reruns of past ABS-CBN shows and specials. Top draws are classic sitcoms like “Home Along Da Riles” and “Abangan ang Susunod na Kabanata” that are now a rarity on Philippine TV.

*READ on to Part 2.

(Do you agree with this list or have your own idea of 2012’s top TV trends? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments section.)

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Related 2012 Yearenders online:

PinoyJournalist blog thumbnail
  This blog’s Most-visited posts for 2012

ABS-CBN News.com logo
  ABS-CBNnews.com’s Top stories for 2012

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility logo
CMFR’s “The year that was in the news media”
New players in the media landscape

Media newser Philippines logo The big news in TV news for 2012, according to MediaNewser Philippines.

The Bookshelf: Agatha Christie’s heroines

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Stephanie Zimbalist (right) as Anne Beddingfield in the movie version of "The Man in the Brown Suit"

Stephanie Zimbalist (right) as Anne Beddingfield in the movie version of “The Man in the Brown Suit” (From AgathaChristiereader.wordpress.com)

(Here’s the next installment in my Bookshelf series on Agatha Christie’s mystery thrillers. Read the first one, “Intro to Christie,” here.)

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In her first few novels, Agatha Christie has this thing with young, spunky women. It may be the spirit of the Roaring Twenties, when females broke from Victorian restrictions.

Sure they’re romantic and swoon for “strong, silent” men (Romance is never lost in the stories).

But Christie’s heroines are into the chase less for the sake of finding out who did it, and more for the thrill of experiencing something new.

Likely they are also strong pegs for Christie’s female readers, who at the time were slowly embracing a bigger part in society.

Murder on the Links (1923)

In this novel, it’s a girl introduced as “Cinderella”. A little crass, a little unorthodox for one so young, she opens the novel saying “Hell!”

She intrigues returning character Arthur Hastings when he meets her on a train in France. Then she springs up much, much later at the scene of a murder.

Yet Hastings and Cinderella are just side stories to the investigation by the also-recurring Hercule Poirot.

Poirot brought Hastings along to aid a Frenchman who, fearing for his life, asked for the detective’s help. The day they arrived at his home, the man had been found stabbed and his wife knocked out and tied to her seat.

The sleuth thinks there might be a different culprit other than the apparent.

The suspects range from the Frenchman’s son to an enigmatic mother and daughter who live nearby. The reasons–inheritance to an affair.

Even Cinderella has a surprising connection.

Following the suspicions lets the reader meet some piquing female characters. And as much as Christie presents many of them as strong, she also hides some sappy sparks just behind the whodunits.

The Man in the Brown Suit (1924)

 Anne Beddingfield, the lead of this story, is less the smoking, outspoken gal like Tuppence Crowley-Beresford of The Secret Adversary. But they share the smarts and derring-do of amateur detectives in the making.

Newly-orphaned, Anne wants to see the world. Her first adventure? London.

There she witnesses a man fall to his death at the underground rail. Then a lady is killed at a house for rent, the last person seen with her a man in a brown suit.

Police and the public dismiss any link between the two events. Anne is convinced they are connected. All she holds are some scribbles on a piece of paper and some snooping of her own.

With some license from a newspaper she promised a story, Anne follows the trail of the paper and uses her remaining money to board a ship leaving for South Africa.

The novel pieces Anne’s first-person reminiscences with excerpts from the diary of another character, Sir Eustace Pedler, a rich man who owned the rented house where the lady was killed.

As in The Secret Adversary, the reader looks for a hidden antagonist who here just might be one of the people in the boat. Is it indeed the man in the brown suit?

While less political than the Adversary novel, here Anne also learns she is up against an organized group. But she’s not short of allies she’ll make.

The change in perspectives at blocks throughout the novel might leave the reader either wanting more or just restless to go back to the other narrator.

It has the typical Christie resolution owing to keenness and a little luck. And again, one can expect another romantic swoon just to keep those interested readers happy.

Yes, Christie’s heroines are spirited, but can go sweet. Is that something I should also expect from the next 40-plus stories? Why not?

The Bookshelf: Intro to Christie

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

* The Bookshelf is PinoyJourn’s long-overdue attempt to work something out of this writer’s stunted reading habit. I’ve long been reading before I started writing, , and am ever thankful to reading for my affair with words.

When I began to work, I began to re-read the tales I enjoyed abridged as a kid and to expand that horizon of books. I’ve put it upon myself before reading more to churn out reviews shorter than my usual word length as [1] writing practice, [2] writing lessons, and [3] self-assurance that those flights into fancy still produced a sense of rumination.

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Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Crowley

David Suchet as Poirot

Detective mysteries probably embody the best elements of the story.

You follow the hero/ine’s search for answers to the baffling premise. Cliffhangers keep you around for more. And gradually, you marvel with the other characters as the clues slowly piece together.

The detective mystery accommodates romance, oddity, and action—physical and intellectual. And it works for either gender—protagonist or reader.

Having gone through the exploits of Sherlock Holmes at least twice, I decided to dip next into Agatha Christie–dubbed the Queen of Crime.

She’s only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare, so her 70-plus works must count among any reading list. I started with her first two novels, to be reviewed here.

Christie lived and based her stories on the first half of the 20th century. And so they mention cars and short skirts, as against Doyle’s 1800s horse-drawns and Victorian primness.

But Christie’s English setting, with its stone villages, telegrams, nobility, and the Underground sometimes reads like a dead-ringer for Doyle had his writings gone past 1930.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)

 A provincial manor, a disjointed family, and a dead matriarch–a classic jump-off for a mystery. Here, Christie introduces Hercule Poirot, an eccentric Belgian detective who becomes her most famous sleuth akin to Holmes.

The story is told Watson-esque through Arthur Hastings, a close friend of Poirot’s who introduces him to the scene of the crime and follows his investigation.

Hints of a scandal rivet the reader’s suspicions to certain characters at the outset. But in the course of the novel, the probe leads one to doubt almost everyone in the story. Which leads to surprise when Poirot reveals the culprit.

Much like Holmes, the detective seems to dally on details that leave Hastings (and the reader) to wonder about their relevance. Other times, clues are rarely or breezily mentioned that the careful reader has to backtrack and find them.

A conscious tracking of the trail might deter enjoying the read, but it’s the conflict and intrigue that grant the human interest worth following till the end.

And much like Holmes, Hercule Poirot begins and remains detached from the tumult of characters. Hastings is left to notice the emotional nuances in the story.

Yet, Poirot’s handling of each revelation eventually hints that he’s not all as mechanical as he seems.

The Secret Adversary (1922)

The Secret Adversary cover by Agatha Christie Meet the Young Adventurers, Ltd., Christie’s dynamic duo in their debut story. Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Crowley are childhood buds who meet again after World War I and decide to form a “joint venture” bent on adventure.

Their combined ages “would certainly not have totaled forty-five.” But Christie immediately pits them–by serendipity–against the socio-political shifts of fragile post-war Britain.

They’re assigned to recover a lost treaty that could dictate a change of government, as well as a girl named Jane Finn who holds the key to where it is. They face ruffians supposedly led by the faceless “secret adversary,” Mr. Brown.

Trust issues again creep up in this tale, which is more caper than political, but the smaller circle of characters leaves few choices on who Mr. Brown is.

Maybe it’s their youth, or their spunk, but Tommy and Tuppence manage to get themselves out of situations those same qualities got them tangled in the first place. And for young amateurs, they beat the authorities to solving the case.

It’s not just their ages that let me relate with the Young Adventurers, but also their personalities and “duonamic” (credit to Elbong Torrayno).

Tuppence is the liberated, outspoken 1920s girl who runs on instinct even before she thinks about it. Tommy is laidback, silent, and cautious. But so close is their team-up that when they’re split up during cliffhangers, Tommy learns to trust his gut and Tuppence, to calculate her moves.

The setup seems to benefit the lady when the two go together. But at crucial times Tommy’s cool head gets the upper hand. And their propensity to tease and seemingly treat each other cavalierly only masks a deeper affection.

(Book cover shots from AgathaChristie.com. Also, read my first review, on “A Tale of Two Cities.”)

PinoyJourn’s 2011: The top posts

A year of upheaval.

2011 saw calamities challenge our notions both of safety and of the status quo.

This year, the stirrings of change disturbed the common and the powerful. One issue, one event after the other made us rethink or question our policies and our perspectives.

We saw personalities resurface to accountability. Beloved figures passed on. We remembered the past, saw it repeat itself, and wondered what has changed. In the wake of it all, we got some answers yet we face more questions.

This behind-the-scenes blog tried to find untold stories beyond the did-this-did-that sidelines of news coverage. Still, the media back-stories found themselves inserted in understated mentions. And even the unique circumstances warranted their own stories.

2011 began with a fleeting succession of big stories that for lack of downtime a number of them did not get written about here.

Among them: the mysterious EDSA bus blast, the construction mishap that killed 10, and the flooding in Albay and in Jolo that sent me for the first time there.

Even as the year ended, the season did not give pause for the routine holiday watch.

2011 also expanded the audience of PinoyJournalist as it affiliated with sites like ABS-CBNnews.com and ABS-CBN’s intranet newsletter E-Frequency. One result– the first post that breached the thousand-hits mark.

I haven’t followed through on last year’s resolution for more features outside of current events or more book reviews. Chalk it up to limited writing time and audience considerations.

2012 will sure bring more stories, and I hope, more ways to tell them.

For now, here’s the rundown of 2011’s headlines as seen through the eyes of this blog:

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