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Cherie Mercado-Santos producing with director of photography and editor Jeff Atienza in 2022 at the FTV studios. Cherie says she is excited to work behind the scenes after a long career as an anchor and reporter in the Philippines.

TV producer fights to create local Filipino shows

Filbert Wong is grinding to produce shows on Filipino TV.

By Jake de Guzman , in Feature story , on February 7, 2023 Tags: , ,

Filbert Wong is filling a cable TV channel with 100-per-cent Filipino-Canadian productions because he feels the Fil-Can community doesn’t see inspiring stories about itself on TV or YouTube. 

What locals do see are shows from the Philippines aired on subscription channels and YouTube videos made by Filipino creators from outside Canada. Wong, as president of Filipino TV,  feels these lean too much on celebrities and influencers. He believes that there should be better shows and wants to do this from Toronto at FTV.

“Filipinos just made entertainment and mediocre content. I want to change the celebrity culture in Filipino content and the search for fame and money,” Wong said.  

Filbert Wong sitting in the FTV office.

His solution is to pivot content away from the “fluff, nonsense, and bad news” seen in licensed shows to inspiring content created for Filipino-Canadians by Filipino-Canadians.

Reprogramming Filipino TV

He started this change in 2014 when he took out all licensed programs from the Philippines and aired only Canada-produced content on FTV. 

His channel has produced 42 original shows, all representing the lives, concerns, and talents of Filipino-Canadians. Some featured ordinary Filipinos sharing their life stories, educating bilingual kids, teaching a crash course for newcomers to Canada, showing hacks for home cooks, and featuring local musicians.  

Currently the channel is producing more hours of local content than its competitors, The Filipino Channel and the OMNI Filipino news program, with their current line-up of a daily one-hour talkshow, seven weekly shows, and four documentaries in production.

Filling a channel has its challenges, especially because no one has done that before in Canada. 

“The greatest challenge is trying to keep people’s motivation and drive. Production is very intense, tiring, and physical. So there’s the danger of burnout,” Wong said.

To manage this while building shows that represent his community, Wong has a unique strategy. 

Creating an ecosystem of creatives

FTV has a lean team of eight in-house producers. In order to grow the number of shows, Wong is building an ecosystem of creatives by investing in training, mentoring, and providing production equipment to Filipino-Canadians who have ideas and passions to share.

Cherie Mercado-Santos recently joined FTV in Toronto as one of the in-house producers after a long career as a reporter and news anchor in Manila.  She says the strategy is about bringing in voices outside of the usual celebrities and hosts.

“He would get non-hosts, like this person who had an idea about a cooking show and was willing to share her recipes. She was just a passionate home cook and Filbert said, ‘It’s your idea. So you should be the host’,” Mercado-Santos said.

Cherie Mercado-Santos producing with director of photography and editor Jeff Atienza in 2022 at the FTV studios.

Mercado-Santos sees that the strategy has its benefits and trade-offs. 

“It’s a double-edged sword. You get people who are passionate and able to share their ideas to the public. You don’t have to be a celebrity. But when you watch FTV, you will see very common ordinary-looking people who we are not used to seeing on camera,” said Mercado-Santos. 

For Wong, that’s part of the the transformation he wants to see that starts with his host-producers in his growing ecosystem.

“They are common folks who don’t realize that in their own way their ideas are valid. Our goal is to redefine what it means to be a ‘creative.’ When we do that, we are able to do more than we thought we could.”

The ecosystem in action

Christine Santos studied psychology and human resources at York University but today is  part of FTV’s ecosystem of creatives. She and a friend met with Wong in 2018 with a podcast idea and were convinced to turn it into a TV show. 

“It was an offer that was hard to pass up on. Because it’s not an opportunity given to everyone — to produce your own show, create a legacy, a piece of me that will always be there,” she said.  

Wong and his team worked with Santos to turn this first idea into a TV show on women empowerment called MEningFULL Conversations. 

“Filbert’s process is very easy-going but very critical. He expects you to deliver on what you think. He’ll manage the execution through discussion and meetings, Santos said. 

A year later, as she started a life-coaching practice for kids, Wong encouraged her to turn the new skill into a children’s show and experiment with the format. This children’s show was called Epic Generation.

“We had the ability to experiment. The FTV team was supportive and accommodating. We were all invested in this because it was for the kids.” Santos said. 

She sees how everyone involved in the production has grown and changed.

“The kids are growing in confidence. We see how their TV skills are transferable to other fields. Their families are part of the production and they have experiences together so different than just sending your kids to an after-school program.”

Christine Santos (far left) with Filbert Wong(far right) with the Epic Generation kids during the premiere of their new series, Nino and his Shadow, in 2022.

 

Like Wong, Christine Santos believes it’s important it is to mirror local experiences back to the community. 

“It’s important for the community to see local stories and not just canned content from Philippine TV networks. When they see ordinary kids like them on TV, it’s validating. There is diversity. We show them that any child can do it. For the second generation here, we also show them that Filipino heritage is important.”

For Wong, he connects this important message with the pioneering work of building an ecosystem and filling a cable channel with 100-per-cent-Filipino-Canadian productions. 

“By building skillsets and a non-toxic environment, by helping producers and audience remember that they are creative and have something valid to share, that’s where I have something to contribute. That’s what we give back to the community and hopefully they pay attention.”