Movies & TV

"It Was a Corrosive Thing to Do:" What Really Made Johnny Manahan Leave ABS-CBN?

The iconic Mr. M gets candid about the real reason he left the Kapamilya Network.
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One reason Johnny Manahan, or simply Mr. M to most people in the entertainment industry, left ABS-CBN is that he simply felt it was time to go. 

“I found myself walking around the hallways (of ABS-CBN), and feeling nostalgic about the old days,” he tells a group of editors of Summit Media Network during a candid virtual conversation. “I would see (photos of) Dolphy, Panchito, the ghost of so-and-so. I realized I’ve been here so long, (in the industry as a) the whole, almost 50 years. Thirty-five to 40 of those years in ABS-CBN.”

To people who have even the slightest interest in local show business, Manahan is a stalwart. As the big boss of Star Magic, the network’s talent management arm, he was a starmaker of the first order; the person whose hands were on the spotlight and could maneuver it to shine on whomsoever he chooses. And over the years—decades, even—that spotlight burned bright for celebrities like Claudine Barreto, Jolina Magdangal, Bea Alonzo, Piolo Pascual, Daniel Padilla, Kathryn Bernardo, and many, many more

“It wasn’t a nice thing to do”

But there was another reason Manahan finally bid adieu to the only network he called home for decades. 

“(Talent management) will work if there’s only one Star Magic,” he said. “(But) there was a shadow Talent Center. They had their own managers, and they managed their own stars, who were the people from Pinoy Big Brother. We (Star Magic) expected to manage these people, but they set up their own organization. That didn’t sit too well with my people.

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“That makes us irrelevant,” he added. “Maybe they were trying to make us irrelevant.”

Manahan said he took the issue up with higher management, but after three years, nothing happened.

"I miss the days when (former ABS-CBN Presidents) FMG (Freddy Garcia) and Charo (Santos) were around," he said. "Because of their high ethical standards, they would have done something about it. As FMG used to say, "kanya kanyang raket yan!" Raket namin yan: the discovery and training of artists, not anyone else's!"

"It was a corrosive thing to do, having another talent management center there," he added. "We were proud of the fact that, when we were there, Talent Center was always number one. We held it at that level. 

“That wasn’t a nice thing to do. That was one of the things I thought about that led me to think that maybe I should forget about it. And think about other things.”

An unexpected jump to TV5

ABS-CBN announced that Manahan was leaving the network in September 2020. At the time, the septuagenarian said he hadn’t really thought about going back to do more work on television. 

“I was never meant to go back to TV,” he said. “I just wanted to stay home. I wanted to clean the place. Maybe go back to painting. Smell the flowers. Here in my bunker. That’s all I wanted to do.”

But then the opportunity came along to help ABS-CBN employees who were displaced when the network was ordered shut down by the National Telecommunications Communications after the renewal of its broadcast franchise was rejected by Congress. A conversation with Brightlight Productions chief Albee Benitez, who signed a blocktime deal with Manny Pangilinan owned TV5, convinced him to put his broadcast hat back on. 

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Manahan produced and directed two variety programs for Brightlight, many of them featuring former talents he worked with on ABS-CBN: daily variety program Lunch Out Loud with Billy Crawford, Alex Gonzaga, Bayani Agbayani, K Brosas, KC Montero; and Sunday variety program Sunday Noontime Live (SNL) with Piolo Pascual, Catriona Gray, and Maja Salvador. 

Brightlight pulled the plug on SNL and another Sunday program, comedy show Sunday Kada, this past weekend. Both shows lasted for only three months and aired their final episodes on Sunday, January 18. 

Manahan said he could only think of one reason the shows were canceled so quickly

“It wasn’t generating enough money,” he said. “I wish it didn’t have to happen. It was a surprise, but we can roll with the punches.”

The ABS-CBN magic

Asked what it was about ABS-CBN programs that seemed to connect with audiences and made them successful (or, at least, last longer on air), Manahan offered a theory. 

“(ABS-CBN), they have everything in place—the people behind the scenes, writers, directors, producers. People who create. Then, of course, the actors.

“Everything was in place,” he repeated. Maybe in TV5, very few of these elements are in place, so there’s less chance of success there. In ABS-CBN, the organization is there, but in other channels, they’re not properly put together.” 

Manahan said he was there during the two openings and two closings of his old home network: in 1966, when the station was inaugurated, and when it reopened after the EDSA Revolution in 1986. He was also there during the two “closings:” in 1972, when the Marcos government seized the network and its assets; and again last year, when it was ordered shut down.

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“ABS has been good to me,” he said.

“Who knows,” he answered, when asked if he’d ever consider rejoining the network he called home for most of his life. “I can’t see going back. Not unless some people see the light. Either see the light or die.

“Just kidding,” he quickly adds, laughing. “I would never wish for people to die.”

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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