MANILA, MAY 28, 2011 (STAR) STAR BYTES (Second of 2 parts) By Butch Francisco - When Ali Sotto returned to Manila last quarter of 2010 after a three-year stay in Madrid, she wasn’t exactly in a hurry to get back to work. What she wanted to do was to get settled first — comfortably.

There was a house waiting for her, all right — completed by end of 2007. But she had it leased out — brand-new — while she was away. To her relief, she had it rented out to the family of Raffy Jose, who turned out to be the perfect tenant.

When she drove through the gate straight from the airport, she was happy to see the house in order. The Jose family also proved to be most considerate: They left food and drinks for her since they knew she and her party would be hungry after a long trip.

Whatever touch-up works that had to be done were on the exterior of the house — the usual part of any structure’s wear and tear in this tropical weather. But calling in carpenters, landscape gardeners and house painters and supervising them required time from her.

And then there was the matter of furniture. Ali didn’t have any. She arrived at least two months ahead of most material possessions she had — a lot of which were being flown in from storage from all over the world. Neither did she have clothes. She couldn’t even appear on TV since her dresses and formals were still on their way to the Philippines.

As soon as friends from the broadcast industry found out that she was back in the country, they began touching base with her — with most of them asking what her plans were. Others offered work. But that had to wait. Not until she got herself settled — with clothes, furniture and all. To get around the city, she even had to borrow the car of friends Duke and Amy (Austria) Ventura until she found time to shop around for her own vehicle.

By March of this year, she decided to finally sit down and have serious talks with various networks. She began going over show formats. Been there. Done that.

What appealed most to her was this new concept in a show that was to be christened Starbox. Along with celebrity guests, she was going to thresh out opinions of the masses. It was like Twitter on television, but more exciting since the people were right there.

Starbox premiered last April 4 with Papa Jack. After six weeks, its regular followers began asking: What happened to the show?

In a conversation with Ali, we get a clearer picture of what became of Starbox, which was already starting to develop quite a following in the morning slot.

What’s the story behind the cancellation of Starbox?

I was told that it was a programming decision to meet a contractual obligation. Eat, Bulaga! started to broadcast earlier and last May 3, our timeslot was adjusted accordingly. I say this matter of factly without any rancor or ill feeling kasi TAPE, Inc. is family naman to me. Unfortunately, with the move, we lost our target audience and the ratings suffered. Wala na akong laban sa cartoons dahil bakasyon ang mga bata.

I was under the impression it did well in the ratings game.

It did. When we launched, Starbox rated well against shows of the other networks. More importantly, at least to me, it received very good reviews and feedback from those who were following the show. Especially from those whose opinion mattered to me.

What about your commercial load?

Up to the last airing day, Starbox was strongly supported by the advertising sector and I deeply appreciate this. Sabi nga nila sa akin, even Yakult with its relatively small advertising budget, placed ads in our show.

So how are you taking this?

Alam mo, Butch, I started in this business 34 years ago and I know and accept that shows come and go. Ganoon naman talaga e. My sense of loss comes from axing this show that had a unique trailblazing concept. A daily remote show that we brought straight from the barangays.

And TV5’s Face to Face started doing the same soon after.

So I heard! Iba naman kasi talaga ang dynamics when you’re on location with the masa eh.

I remember you telling me that you were nervous about accepting this when it was offered to you.

I had serious doubts that the common tao would be ready to speak out their sentiments on an issue. Akala ko mauunahan ng hiya pag tinapatan mo ng microphone. But I agreed to do the show precisely because it was novel and untested and this made it risky and exciting! It was a gamble worth taking.

I was glad to be proven wrong. They were so ready, willing, and eager to talk. You know how your Facebook status asks you “What’s on your mind?” Heto yon para sa mga walang laptop! Many times, I was floored by their thoughts and opinions, their life stories. Nakakatawa, nakakaiyak, nakakakilig at nakakagulantang ang mga kuwentong buhay nila.

You also had stars on the show.

Apart from their crowd-drawing power, the celebrity guests were interviewed to draw a parallel with the case studies. Our springboard for each episode was: “Ang isyu ng sikat, isyu nating lahat.” It was clear that the rich and famous have issues the same as yours and mine, only magnified because they were in the public eye. Sometimes, the interaction caught on camera made for some good TV.

The logistics of mounting such a show must be difficult.

Ay! Understatement yan! Plus, we suffered the intolerable summer heat. Working under the sun for hours was physically debilitating! Assaulted lahat ng senses mo! But we had so much fun working on the set and the entire team had fantastic camaraderie so the work atmosphere was wonderfully familial. This is what I miss most.

It is your birthday tomorrow.

I told my production team that I hate these TV tributes on your birthday and I was adamant that I not be given one. Ayun! Answered prayer! Hahahaha! Be careful what you wish for kasi may sense of humor si Lord. . . Hahahaha!

So how are going to celebrate it instead?

Wallow in my misery in some place I haven’t visited. Most probably India. Maglulupasay ako in front of Taj Mahal. And when I get back, let’s party!!!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved