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Iconic, but not perfect: A look back at the history, controversies, and legacy of 'Eat Bulaga!'

By MAAN D'ASIS PAMARAN Published Jun 04, 2023 8:39 pm Updated Jun 04, 2023 8:54 pm

Eat Bulaga! has been delivering “isang libo’t isang tuwa” for more than four decades and it has had its share of intrigues and cringe-inducing moments. Nothing is perfect, after all, but it has perfected the craft of keeping Filipino audiences “mula Batanes hanggang Jolo” entertained throughout their lunch hours.

The show first aired on July 30, 1979 on RPN 9 as a rival program for Student Canteen—a noontime show on GMA-7 that enjoyed high ratings. It is said that comedic trio TVJ (Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, and Joey de Leon) turned down the offer to host three times from production company Production Specialists Inc, which was owned by sportscaster Dick Ildefonso and businessman Romeo Jalosjos that broadcasted the games of the Philippine Basketball Association. It later moved to Television and Production Exponents Inc. (TAPE Inc.), a production company being run by Jalosjos as CEO.

Eat Bulaga! floundered at first, until it launched its search for Mr. Macho—a male beauty pageant that caught the attention and imagination of its viewers. It was only in October 1980 that Eat Bulaga! began garnering considerable ratings. By 1982, it was being seen simultaneously all over the country via RPN9’s DomSat (Domestic Satellite) technology. It was the first noontime show to beam nationwide at the time.

Tito, Vic, and Joey in 2011

The show moved to ABS-CBN Channel 2 in 1989 and left in 1995 when the station decided to produce its own shows. Eat Bulaga! found a new home in GMA-7 in 1995, and the station has a contract with TAPE as a block timer until 2024.

Hiccups through the years

With its long-running success comes a few intrigues and some unpleasant moments, which are actually a testament to the show’s staying power as it has hurdled quite a few through the years.

AlDub "cult"

The rise of the AlDub phenomenon from the Kalyeserye segment brought an unprecedented fan frenzy and a few hardcore fans out of the woodwork. Maine Mendoza and Alden Richards played their onscreen romance so convincingly that some people refuse to believe that they are not together in real life. Some fans believe that the two are "married and have a child," despite Maine’s real-life relationship with actor and Quezon City Rep. Arjo Atayde.

Where it all began: Alden Richards and Yaya Dub meet for the first time on Kalyeserye

A video surfaced last November 2022 of AlDub fans holding what appears to be a candlelight vigil for the two. In an interview with showbiz talk show host Ogie Diaz, Maine called it a "delusion" and said, “I tried calling them out a couple of times already. Pero ayaw pa rin nilang maniwala.”

Vic Sotto and Pauleen Luna’s age gap

Vic Sotto and Pauleen Luna began dating in December 2011 after shooting their Metro Manila film fest entry Enteng ng Ina Mo. They went public in 2013. The couple got engaged on September 2015 and were married on January 30, 2016. Pauleen gave birth to their child Talitha Maria on November 6, 2017.

Pauleen Luna and Vic Sotto

What makes their story remarkable is not just their age gap of 34 years, but also the fact that Pauleen was once a contestant on Eat Bulaga!’s Little Miss Philippines segment back in 1995. Eyebrows have been raised but Pauleen confidently held her own by saying she doesn’t feel their age gap. “The thing I love most about him is the amount of respect he gives me," she related in an Instagram post.  "He respects my room to grow and he respects me like an equal. I always feel important around him."

As a side note, Vic has been involved with other EB co-hosts in the past: Coney Reyes with whom he has a son, Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto; TV host Pia Guanio; and athlete-turned-media personality Christine Jacob. 

Unpaid talent fees

Tito Sotto revealed that Vic Sotto and Joey De Leon have not been receiving their salaries since last year, letting it slip that TAPE owes them P30 million each. At a media conference for his upcoming sitcom Open 24/7 last May 29, Vic told members of the press that they have finally been paid. "Bayad na! Okay na. Buti na lang na-media!" he exclaimed without revealing how much the amount was.

Actor Anjo Yllana, one of the show’s former co-hosts revealed that TAPE also owes him around five to seven months’ salary.

Cast dalliances

In September 2013, a sex video was released online by an anonymous source, involving EB co-host Wally Bayola and EB Babe Yosh Rivera. Wally, who is married, went on a voluntary hiatus from the show for five months. He came back on the show in February 2014 with a public apology regarding the incident.

Fellow Dabarkads Jose Manalo was likewise involved in a controversy when his wife accused him of bigamy, saying he married another woman in 1994. The wife also alleged family abandonment and child neglect due to a supposed affair with an EB Babes member. The cases were eventually dismissed.

Kiddie treatment monitored

Kid phenom Ryzza Mae Dizon rose to stardom because of Eat Bulaga!’s Little Miss Philippines portion, and she was so endearing that she soon became one of the noontime show’s regular co-hosts and was given a self-titled show of her own. When working with children, however, there has to be some special considerations. The attention of the Movies and TV Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) was called regarding two incidents that involved the child star.

In September 2013, the MTRCB called for a “mandatory conference” to clarify “scenes allegedly insensitive and unfriendly to children” on her two shows. In Eat Bulaga!’s July 29, 2013 episode, a host spat juice into the face of the child actress. During the Aug. 14, 2013 episode of The Ryzza Mae Show, a guest told the young host: "Landing bata ka." The board noted in its statement that these scenes “palpably violate the dignity of the child.”

The Ryzza Mae Show

According to MTRCB chairperson Atty. Eugenio Villareal, both TAPE and GMA-7 acknowledged what he referred to as "lapses" in handling the then 8-year-old child star as a host on her self-titled program and on Eat Bulaga!. They committed to three months of close collaboration to ensure child-friendly scenes for Ryzza Mae.

Teachable moment

In an episode of Eat Bulaga!’s Bawal Judgmental segment that aired in March 2023, where the contestants are a group of parents “25 years or younger with five children,” mom contestant “Incess” called on her eldest son, Ace, to study hard, avoid vices, and finish school. “Sa'yo Ace, sana mag-aral ka nang mabuti dahil alam kong ikaw 'yung makakaahon sa amin sa kahirapan. Ikaw 'yung pursigido para gumanda 'yung buhay natin. At saka bata ka pa. Kahit bata ka pa, may pangarap ka na talaga," the contestant said.

Dabarkads Maine Mendoza gently chided the young mother, saying, “Ang bata mo pa, Incess. Kayong mag-asawa, may pagkakataon pa para palakihin o pagandahin ang inyong buhay. At saka bata pa si Ace. 'Wag naman natin ipasa sa kanya and responsibilidad. Marami pa kayong magagawa, kayo ni mister.”

She gained praises from netizens, who agreed that it is wrong for parents to see their children as a “retirement plan.”

Bawal Judgmental segment featuring parents who are 25 years or younger with five children

What Eat Bulaga! leaves behind  

TVJ announced they have parted ways with TAPE Inc. last May 31 after rumors about an Eat Bulaga! rebranding—and the trio getting fired—broke out amid financial losses.

After the announcement, Eat Bulaga! staff members, including hosts, writers, sales, production, and cameramen, tendered their resignation.

TAPE Inc., for its part, in a statement said the show will have a new set of hosts so it can continue serving Dabarkads.

The latest development in the ongoing saga about the show’s future is an announcement by Tito Sotto that there are plans to stream Eat Bulaga! via Facebook Live, as the account is owned by its head writers and not by TAPE. In an interview with DWIZ, he says their aim is to have the show reach its 50th anniversary in 2029.

Eat Bulaga! has given so much joy to its loyal viewers through the years, with innovative segments that made for enjoyable TV. It was more than a way to pass the time during the lunch break, but a midday companion for the Filipino everyman looking for a quick respite from reality.

It has likewise been an avenue for discovering and mainstreaming new talent—from Ice Seguerra to Maine Mendoza, the JoWaPao trio (Jose Manalo, Wally Bayola, and Paolo Ballesteros), Matt Lozano, Ryzza Mae Dizon, and Baeby Baste.

Most importantly, Eat Bulaga! was Pinoy at heart. It showcased values such as bayanihan and pakikipag-kapwa through its segments that not only gave out prize money but actually listened to their beneficiaries’ stories.  

Whatever the fate of the longest-running noontime show will be in the coming days, what is sure is that it has already left its mark in Philippine entertainment, give or take the lessons learned along the way.