But 'Potter' beats soccer star's yakker

BUENOS AIRES Soccer legend Diego Maradona debuted as a TV host Aug. 15 in a splashy two-hour program that upped ratings for struggling Buenos Aires broadcaster Artear-Canal 13.

The 44-year-old sang, played guitar, kicked around a soccer ball and interviewed celebrities on “La noche del 10” (The Night of the 10), named after Maradona’s Argentina international squad number.

His main guest was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as soccer star Pele. Both are acknowledged as all-time greats in the sport.

Maradona’s other guests were Italian thesp Maria Grazia Cuccinota, (“The Postman”), musician Diego Torres, former tennis ace Gabriela Sabatini and thesp Ricardo Darin (“Nine Queens”).

This is a major turnaround for Maradona, who was committed to a psychiatric hospital amid a spiraling health crisis five months ago.

He has since undergone stomach-stapling surgery, helping him emerge from drug addiction and obesity as a budding media personality.

The yakker comes amid renewed interest in the soccer star. Bosnian helmer Emir Kusturica is filming a documentary on Maradona, while Italo helmer Marco Risi expects to start a film on his life in October called “La mano di dio” (Hand of God), the phrase Maradona used to explain how he scored a goal against England with his hand in 1986.

“The program exceeded my expectations,” Canal 13 programming director Adrian Suar, who is producing it under his Pol-ka Prods. banner, told a Buenos Aires radio net.

“The Night” generated intensive coverage in the local press, which dubbed the evening’s ratings battle “Big Monday” as terrestrial rivals pulled out all the stops to pull auds away from Maradona.

However, even a soccer star can’t beat a wizard.

The night’s winner with 31 ratings points (3.6 million viewers) was “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which Telefonica’s Telefe aired to attract kids at home for a national holiday.

“The Night” came second with 29.6 points (3.2 million), according to Ibope Argentina.

However, there’s plenty of time to improve on that. Maradona has signed on for 13 shows and is seeking interviews with thesp Antonio Banderas, Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro, racing driver Michael Schumacher and soccer star Ronaldo.

For Canal 13, the show’s already a winner: “The Night” has the highest ad rate on TV, at $700 a second, and product placement includes Puma, Gillette and MasterCard.

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