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Long-Running Variety Show 'Sabado Gigante' Comes To An End

Sep 19, 2015
Originally published on September 23, 2015 1:25 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"Sabado Gigante," part of our cultural landscape, it's been on the air for 53 years. A lot of people love it. Some people don't care for it. For some, it's just been background noise for abuela's house. But its long reign comes to an end tonight after being on the air for 53 years. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

MARIO KREUTZBERGER: (As Don Francisco) (Singing in Spanish)

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: "Sabado Gigante," or "Gigantic Saturday," premiered in 1962. That makes it the longest-running variety show in television history. At its helm is a bombastic, Chilean host popularly known as Don Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

KREUTZBERGER: (As Don Francisco) (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "Look at how this great-grandfather can dance," says Mario Kreutzberger, his real name. The son of Jewish immigrants escaping Nazi Germany in the late '50s, Kreutzberger was sent off to New York to study to become a tailor. But he spent more time clicking on buttons than sewing them. He fell in love with American television. So when he returned to Chile, he became Don Francisco and started a variety show - part "Jeopardy," part "Saturday Night Live" and part "American Bandstand."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

KREUTZBERGER: (As Don Francisco) (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: The most entertaining program in Chilean television, he proclaims in this early broadcast as the camera pans in on a sleeping audience member. It was that kind of self-deprecating humor that made him likable. In his autobiography, Kreutzberger recalls being paid a visit by Chilean soldiers who ordered him to announce a military coup. He says he talked his way out of it and swore to himself he'd never get involved in politics. He kept that promise, sticking to comedy and trivia competitions like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

KREUTZBERGER: (As Don Francisco) (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

KREUTZBERGER: (As Don Francisco) (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: In 1986, the show got picked up by Univision and started being broadcast from Miami to the Spanish-speaking world. One of its biggest attractions has been its live music.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

SHAKIRA: (Singing in Spanish).

GARSD: That's a very baby-faced, teenage Shakira shaking her then raven-black hair. She's going to be back on tonight, along with a roster of Latin superstars, like Daddy Yankee and Enrique Iglesias, performing for the final episode of "Sabado Gigante." For a lot of people, it's the end of an era or three or four.

AURA BOGADO: Finally this show is finally going to be off the air.

GARSD: Aura Bogado writes for the online magazine "Grist," and she's referring to the endless parade of bikini-clad babes and competitions like Miss Colita or Miss Butt. What's complicated, Bogado says, is that for Latinos, it was one of the handful of shows everyone could watch and discuss together.

BOGADO: We've lost a lot of Latinos, you know - people that come here sort of lose home, a lot of times lose language, and that's where this nostalgia partially comes from for this show.

GARSD: Kreutzberger turned down NPR's interview request, but he has said it's possible at times I hit the wrong note. "Sabado Gigante" tapped into a common vein in the culturally fragmented Latino community. It was proud of its cheesiness, no irony involved. Love it or hate it, today we'll witness the death of a giant, "Sabado Gigante." Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Spanish) Gigante. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Mario Kreutzberger's family fled Nazi Germany. Kreutzberger went to New York in the late 1950s to study to be a tailor.]

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.