In this edition of MHO, we will delve into the recent ‘Alyas Robin Hood’ controversy and we will touch upon the concept of originality or the perceived lack thereof in the Philippine Entertainment Industry.
I was about to write something in the vein of my first ‘My Humble Opinion’ when the internet-verse exploded on early September when Stephen Amell (Arrow lead actor) reacted about Alyas Robin Hood series that will air on GMA and the reactions and the hashtags that followed suit. (PS: I am contemplating on alternating between lighter topics like this one to the more serious ones on MHO.) Reading the comments section is an emotional roller coaster exercise but the most common thing that was being stated goes something like “the Philippine entertainment does not have any originality” and will go on to give examples like how ‘Captain Barbell, 2006 series’ has copied Smallville, ‘Encantadia’ remake has certain elements of ‘Game of Thrones’ thrown in and the endless comparisons of our daily dramas to those of every Latin Country-produced dramas.
Let this be stated already: this post is not about Mr. Amell’s comments. What I’m weary about is the constant throwing of the word originality in this discussion. Originality as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “the quality of being new and different in a good and appealing way”. I am not in any way a literary expert nor graduated in any related course but I have this hypothesis: It is very hard to come up with an original programming in this day and age where there are thousands of studios pumping out contents with much more writers with their creative minds. Through the years of watching TV, I always notice that shows can be broken down into the following narrative story-wise: Genre, Sub-genre (if possible), Main plot, hook (trademark pending) and sub plots. To explain this further, observe the table below:
|American Television Program||CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS; 2000 – 2015)||Criminal Minds (CBS; 2005 – present)|
|Genre||Procedural Drama||Procedural Drama|
|Main plot||Catching a suspect (usually) by an episode’s end||Catching a suspect (usually) by episode’s end|
Hook (its distinguishing gimmick)
|Forensic Science||Behavioral Science.|
|Sub plot (prominent ones that I recall)||CSI Grissom and CSI Sara romance.||Agent Rossi unknowingly had a daughter with his ex-wife.|
Now, the two programming at a quick glance seems identical: Two hour long dramas on the same network, trying to catch a criminal. What sets them apart and distinguishable from one another story wise is that they use different methods of catching criminals and of course the sub-plots.
Now applying this to the shows in question, yes both shows are inspired by the legend of Robin Hood (I mean look at the Green Arrow’s debut look back in the 40s). If ‘Alyas’ were really inspired by Robin Hood then we know that the main plot will revolve on the lead character stealing from the rich to give to those in need. Comparing that to Arrow’s plot from the first episode about righting the wrongdoings of his family (specifically his father). Since we know nothing about Alyas’ subplot, we can never really claim that they are exactly copying Arrow story wise.
If I’m saying that there will always going to be literature somewhere that can be similar to a show, is there anything else a studio can do to differentiate them? Yes, and that is the aesthetics. When creating any programming, the aesthetic is an integral part of its production. Everything should be carefully crafted through the guidance of the creator’s vision and the script: Do they want to use sepia tones or gray tones for an action scene to be more dramatic? What’s the right background music to highlight a dramatic scene? Do the costumes really need to be expensive to match the wealthy earls in the 1920s or can they do it at a budget by employing other creative means? This matters to attract greater audiences which (unbeknownst to themselves) are looking to find hints the show being realistic no matter how preposterous the stories are (Think ‘The Walking Dead’ and its gore content). The main reason that ‘No Other Woman’ was a success despite having a very tired concept of cheating is the combination of the writer’s memorable one-liners and the fact that the characters are affluent and not relying on cliche of one of the ladies is the ‘poor true love’ of the male protagonist.
This, in my opinion is where GMA and its production may have drop the ball a bit. Below are a collection of pictures that sums up my criticisms:
In the title card both shows have a somewhat blurry smoky background on it; the color schemes for ‘Alyas’ is mostly green with hints of violet which can be associated to another DC Property: Suicide Squad; Why there is an arrow which is prominently visible in Arrow’s title card; Both trailers’ aesthetic is dark with undertones of green (the ‘Alyas’ has an additional violet); The leads’ faces are shot and lighted so that they are indistinguishable to the audience. It didn’t help either that there are ‘fan creation’ artwork floating around that looks similar to Arrow posters. Sure if the two shows are inspired by Robin Hood the costume and the arrow can be inspired from it but the nighttime aesthetics and the title card of both shows makes me pause a bit and think.
There are personalities who are saying that the trailer posted on GMA Network YouTube Page is fifteen seconds long and wait for the show and then judge. That assessment is both right and wrong: Right in that trailers represents a very small fraction of the whole series and wrong because the same trailers are the audience’s first impressions’ which will dictate if they will watch it and in this case, if a lot of audiences are saying that it is a cheaper Arrow then it is concerning and if history is to be consulted, this will most likely flop (remember the Glee inspired Sarah G. series?).
These personalities are also criticizing commentors who ‘apologize’ to Amell on his FB post and claims that it is common practice here ‘to be inspired by foreign shows’. Looking in our industry’s huge output, they may have a point: there are instances of works of whether being copied / inspired / or paying homage to other sources. ‘Starzan’ may have gotten its roots on Tarzan; our local Batman & Robin movie are said to be homage to the 60’s version; ‘Gagamboy’ are said to be the local counterpart of Spiderman; ‘Darna’ is set to be based from Wonder Woman and many more. A large section of the vocal internet savvy Filipinos are craving for something more than just the ‘sampalans’, ‘ahasan’ and the formulaic comedic stuff we see in TV and movies. But the counteract to these vocal netizens are the ratings and box office returns of these kinds of local outputs. In the end, the entertainment industry is an industry: they need to earn and will not thread to other avenues when returns are not 100% guaranteed. For every ‘General Luna’ out there there are a lot more sadly who were flops.
So what do we think GMA are thinking/doing now? Well for one, they posted this proudly so the series will continue. A real scenario that I think occurred is that there are discussions and someone will review everything that is already written / produced and will try to tweak things here and adjust stuff there. They are now too deep in this to back out now. They can always rely on fan sectors who will surely watch it either by loyalty to the network and/or to the attached leads plus the audience sampling that will surely happen in at least the pilot episode.
How can we sum this up? First is that there are clamors for a different type of show than the norm as evident by the extensive amount of commentary from this controversy. Secondly, networks / studios should be extra careful during production as people will notice if you try to blatantly gather ideas from another source (whether it is true and not it does not matter and history is not the show’s side in most cases). To end this and be totally fair to them, GMA has been known to produce good shows like ‘Amaya’, ‘Encantadia’ 1.0 and ‘Indio’ plus ‘My Husband’s Lover’ which may not be original story wise but is considered a revolutionary local soap (which sadly limped at the end IMO). What I’m saying is be more inventive and encourage everyone (not just GMA but everybody within the industry) to strive for something out of the box. It may be 100% great results wise all the time, but no one will claim that you’re unoriginal.
Update (10/3/2016): I decided to delay the posting of this article and try to watch the pilot episode. Unfortunately this did not materialize for personal reasons but I searched online for a review and found this one from a reliable unbiased sourced (for this story).