Top rated talk show is axed after 21 years

It’s the end of an era for Spanish-language television.

On Sept. 25, Cristina Saralegui, known as the Latina Oprah, wrapped her last edition of “The Cristina Show,” after a 21-year run on Univision.

The yakker has won a dozen Emmys and clocked nearly 4,000 episodes, and ranked among the highest-rated programs in the Spanish-language market.

According to Univision, “Cristina” delivered a 26 share on average five years ago. Nielsen reports an average 23 share for the current season.

This makes Univision’s decision to pull the show something of a mystery.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” says Marcos Avila, Saralegui’s husband and manager. “We were shocked.”

He surmises that perhaps the new management, which recently launched a production studio, wants to refresh its programming in a bid to reach younger auds.

Saralegui fled Cuba with her family when she was 12, later trained as a journalist and spent some years as editor of the Spanish Cosmopolitan before seguing to TV.

What began in April 1989 as a conventional talk show stripped daily, evolved into a game-changing program that tackled taboo issues such as AIDS and defied the general belief that Latinos would not reveal their innermost fears and foibles.

“Cristina has the extraordinary ability to make people comfortable and open up to her,” says Avila.

It was stripped daily for at least a decade before it became a weekly Monday 10 p.m. show.

The last edition, due to air in November, turned into a love fest with past guests, family members and colleagues paying tribute to Saralegui, who is 62.

Among the numerous guests were singers Gloria Estefan and Joan Sebastian, telenovela thesp Fernando Colunga and Univision’s star anchor Jorge Ramos and its ex-prexy Ray Rodriguez.

Despite losing her show, Cuban-born Saralegui won’t be kicking off her heels just yet. She has a number of projects in the works.

She took a tip from Martha Stewart and bowed Casa Cristina, a home furnishings collection, in 2004. Its website offers ideas on setting a table correctly, making the “perfect” bed and decorating a room with style. Overall sales revenues for Casa Cristina have been in the high double-digit millions, says Avila.

The 50,000-square-foot Blue Dolphin Studios in Miami, which Saralegui and Avila acquired a decade ago for $10 million, has been paying for itself. Two of its three sound stages have been rented out to companies including Univision, Telemundo, ad agencies and even political campaigns.

Now that the larger Studio A, where “The Cristina Show” was taped, has freed up, they’ve been receiving a number of leaseinquiries.

Saralegui also expects to produce specials for Univision in the future, most likely on the topical and hot button issues that made her show a success.

Married for 26 years, Saralegui and Avila hope to spend more time with their first grandson, whose mother is expecting a second child. “We have three kids, hers, mine and ours,” Avila laughs.

As in most Latino families, the bonds are tight. Saralegui’s brother Ignacio is her assistant while Avila has managed her career from the onset.

Saralegui calls the end of her show a “bittersweet moment” but she’s not fading away. “We may yet have a few surprises in store,” says Avila.

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