MANILA, Philippines — Boy Abunda misses television. But after being on TV for about three decades, ruling the medium as the “king of talk,” Boy now finds himself riding “the highs and lows” of digital platforms during the pandemic.

“I have the Best Talk, which is on Kumu, but that’s aired on TFC, Jeepney TV and Cinema One. And then I have Puregold TV, I still have like two episodes for the first season. I am now on the third season of my podcast, Who Are You When No One is Watching, with Podcast Network Asia and Spotify, and (there’s) my YouTube channel (Boy Abunda Talk Channel),” he told The STAR, enumerating his digital shows all conceived and conceptualized over the pandemic.

It’s been a challenging transition. “I was just expressing to a friend of mine a couple of days ago, sabi ko, I miss television. When I was watching my interview with LJ (Reyes), dun nabuo yung pakiramdam ko na hay, I want to go back to television. Dun medyo nag-nostalgia lang ako because I haven’t been doing television for like two years now.”

To recall, amid the pandemic, his home network ABS-CBN’s broadcast franchise wasn’t renewed last year.

In the beginning, Boy wasn’t very open to going digital because he felt it wasn’t his training. “Not so much on the technical side because you have guys doing it for you, but on the attitudinal side. Yung attitude na, ah bago na naman ang aaralin ko after having done this for 30 years… But I had no choice but to ride the highs and ride the lows of the digital platforms.”

The adjustment continues with some more old habits to undo. “On television, you are trained in a different set, in a different milieu, in a different environment, which is very, very different from digital… (But) the biggest adjustment really is I still have to do it the digital way. What is the digital way? I don’t know what it is (laughs).

“Meron mga countdown 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and you still begin by ‘Magandang gabi, Pilipinas, welcome to…’ which is very television, as opposed to the way some people on digital platforms do it, ‘Kumusta, andito lang ako…’ You know, there are formalities on television that you have to undo. (For example) I’m doing an (online) show at 8:30. If this were television, I would be running from home to studio, etc. But five minutes to a digital show, I’m okay.”

On the flipside, Boy has been able to do certain things that he couldn’t or wouldn’t have done on TV, such as commentaries on issues, which he finds fun.

Top online interviews

One thing Boy realized is that people still expect him to do interviews, and if one may add, the controversial kind. His top-trending one-on-one was with LJ Reyes following her breakup with Paolo Contis, which has generated nearly six million views to date.

He recalled: “It was hard because No. 1, she was very emotional. No. 2, this is my reading when I watched it again, she wanted to be very careful because we were talking about the father of her child. And to a certain extent, my interpretation, even if she decided that the relationship had ended, she didn’t want to hurt Paolo that much, alam mo, if there’s such a thing as not much… She was still protecting Paolo to a certain point, but she wanted to deliver the message that she was very hurt.”

During parts of the interview where he could be seen going back to what the actress said and seeking clarification, he said it was his television training coming in “that when you interview one party, you take on the position of the other party for you to be able to give your audience a broad perspective. I’m not saying that you should be doing a contrarian or adversarial interview, but I don’t like to pander, ‘Oo nga, LJ, oo nga talaga, hindi.’ I wanted to go to that other part, ‘What if your sources are wrong?’”

Other most-watched interviews were with both sides of the Dacera case, which to his surprise, led to a marked increase in his subscriber count.

“In the beginning of this year, when I was still groping, some people advised me, ‘Dapat Boy, ang ginagawa mo sa YouTube, yung mga bagay na hindi mo ginagawa sa television.’ (Others are saying) dapat nag-i-interview ka because that’s what you’re known for. May mga nagsasabi kahit ano, i-upload mo lang. I was getting wise pieces of advice, but I was open to all suggestions, only for me to discover that people, at least my market, expect me to still do my interviews.”

Another trending interview was when Gerald Anderson finally confirmed his relationship with Julia Barretto. “I’m proud of that interview. When you do a good interview, it’s a dance. It’s not because you ask the right questions; it’s because you had an open conversation and you had a welcoming guest, and you were allowed to fly.”

New media challenges

Boy conceded that the Internet has leveled the playing field in media. Celebrities can choose to break their stories on their own social media, or everyone has “become a host, announcer, host, performer, publisher,” among others, with their own digital platforms. He said he loves the energy it’s giving him although at first, he was in denial amid these changes brought about by new media.

“I was hoping and praying that the Net was something transitory (laughs). That’s where I was wrong. Now, I’m not disappointed anymore, I have made the resolve that if this is the way it is and if I want to be relevant… I have to embrace it and I have to learn. I have to discover, I have to invent certain things… I cannot deny that the field has been levelled. So, applying your learnings in the industry gives you a little edge. Certainly, I’m not disappointed anymore, I am excited. I am tired, which you should be when you work hard, but I’m not backing off.”

The STAR asked Boy if he has any advice to the younger generation of interviewers, especially in the digital space, he said, “I’m hesitant to say proceed with love and courage, etc. because that’s too positive for a message. But be the human being that you are, proceed with not even caution because this is a platform that is not cautious, and nobody appreciates caution on digital, but proceed with your humanity intact. Tao ka, nasasaktan ka, nakakasakit ka. You want a better world, the other one wants a better world. So, having said that, I think we will be better. And let’s hope to be better people as we do what we do.”

On how the pandemic has redefined him as an interviewer, Boy was honest to admit that “I’ve been humbled greatly by the pandemic, now as one doing all these interviews. I think, I’ve been diminished by this virus in many ways, admittedly. One of the biggest learnings, not mine, I think it was Bill Gates who said that during the pandemic, we have been confronted with our finitude.

“In simple words, we all realize that you, I, everybody, we are all going to die. We’re all transients. So, I’m not as choosy (as before). I think I have become more playful, I hope. I have become less afraid of the rules. At least, I am privileged to have known what the rules were and are, because I think you can only break them if you know them. So yun ang epekto sa akin ng pandemic.”

He also thinks he’s no longer that harsh on himself. “I used to clinic myself every after an interview… You know, questions you didn’t follow up, the wrong grammar, the syntax, the complex sentences, the long questions, the moments when you didn’t make your guest talk. And then, the question that made your guests answer yes or no, the unfair moments, the biased moments. I used to do that. I used to punish myself. I’m less of that now.”

Political plans?

Besides entertainment personalities, expect interviews from Boy with personalities running for public office, especially with the national elections looming. Boy has been “doing politicians for as long as I’ve been doing (ABS-CBN show Private Conversations)… it’s not a strange world for me. I’m very political, in a sense,” and he’s grateful that he has the background — he has a master’s degree in communications and a doctorate in social development — to “support my conversations.”

Boy said he will continue to dabble in politics, including lending his support to the Ang Probinsyano Party-list “because I have a voice, because ang boses na ito ay probinsyano. During the start of the pandemic, sabi ko kay Bong (my partner), nakakatakot, I don’t know if we are going to survive this.

“But ang parati kong sinasabi, ‘pag hindi na natin kaya dito sa Manila, just allow me to go home. Iuwi mo lang ako sa probinsya. Di ko lang alam kung ano yung comfort ng space na yun, but pauwiin mo lang ako sa Borongan (Eastern Samar), and I’m OK. Being probinsyano is core to me. When I was asked by (Rep.) Apid (Delos Santos) and his family, I have helped other party-lists in the past, sabi ko, yes, I will, because your story is my story. This is not something that was acquired. Proudly probinsyano ako, proudly Waray ako,” Boy said.

He also disclosed that two political parties have asked him to run as senator in the 2022 elections. “Hindi ako ngayon ready. I have to have my own political organization, I have to have logistical necessities, I have to have money, and I don’t want to spend my hard-earned money (laughs). I’m not ready for that. I don’t have disposable political money for a campaign. That can be expensive.”

He’s not ruling out the possibility though. “There’s no fire in my belly. (But) ayoko magsara ng pintuan kasi malay mo, I might just run for governor in Eastern Samar (laughs), I might run for congress, I mean you never know.

“But I am ready for an appointive position. I’ve been offered appointive positions in the past (in different administrations). I was also close to the idea (back then) because I was taking care of my Nanay, but bukas ako. Siguro dun muna ako mag-uumpisa.”

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