'Sabado Gigante' at 50
Mario Kreutzberger (a.k.a. Don Francisco) is born Dec. 28 in southern Chile, the son of German-Jewish immigrants who escaped Germany prior to World War II.
Young Kreutzberger goes to New York to learn about the garment industry, but eventually returns to Chile and falls in love with television. That August, the first TV broadcast in Chile takes place from Casa Central at Catholic U and the newsroom of El Mercurio. There were no more than 5,000 sets in the whole country.
Kreutzberger tries to convince Channel 13 execs at Catholic U to let him do a show. In June, Chile hosts soccer’s World Cup, leading to a major increase in the nation’s TV sets to approximately 20,000 by year’s end.
“Sabado Gigante” makes its TV debut in Chile, hosted by Kreutzberger, who from then on became known by his pseudonym Don Francisco. The original format — a variety show that combines games, guest performers, interviews with newsmakers and other figures in the public eye and humorous segments — remains today.
Kreutzberger begins his work with the Chilean “Teleton,” an annual telethon that has resulted in the construction of 10 hospitals where more than 80,000 disabled children are treated. To date, “Teleton” has raised more than $240 million and spearheaded the creation of the International Telethon Organization (ORITEL), which brings together similar institutions across Latin America. Since the initiative started, Kreutzberger has been ORITEL’s president for life.
“Sabado Gigante” begins airing April 12 on WLTV-Channel 23 in Miami, and a short time later, it is broadcast throughout the United States. It later expands its reach to most of Latin America and 42 countries globally.
“Sabado Gigante” celebrates 30 years on the air and also starts broadcasting throughout Mexico on Televisa’s Channel 2. That same year, Kreutzberger heads a program to support the victims of Hurricane Andrew in Miami.
TV Guide en Espanol names Kreutzberger the second most powerful Latino in TV.
Don Francisco hosts a historic 24-hour-long show, along with Univision’s leading talent, to bid farewell to the 20th century and bring in the 21st. On the hour, from a different place in the planet every time, the show presents a live broadcast of the welcoming of the millennium.
In November, Don Francisco interviews U.S. presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush, interviews that according to experts impacted Hispanic voters’ choice in that year’s presidential elections. Ever since, it has become a tradition for those vying for the White House to be interviewed by Kreutzberger.
Kreutzberger launches “Don Francisco Presenta,” a talkshow that continues to air weekly in primetime on Univision.
Don Francisco leads the Sept. 15 “Todos Unidos” (All United) special, in support of the victims of 9/11. The show becomes a milestone in Univision when it manages to bring together top Hispanic artists. Also, for first time in Univision history, the show was broadcast without commercial breaks.
President Bush invites Kreutzberger to host the Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House and honors him as “the face of Hispanics in the United States.”
Kreutzberger is inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame.
Kreutzberger recognized by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a special Emmy Award as Spanish-language TV leader.
The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes “Sabado Gigante” as the world’s longest-running variety program.
U.S. Congress honors Kreutzberger for helping bridge gap between North American and Latin American cultures.
“Sabado Gigante” takes the biggest technological leap in its history, trading its set with actual structures for a virtual one that reacts to music and segments and changes colors accordingly. The contest and game panels go away, and everything is done with advanced screens and computers.
“Sabado Gigante” celebrates its 50th anniversary, with Kreutzberger set to for induction into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Hall of Fame on March 1.
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