Don Francisco, former host of Univision’s Saturday night mainstay “Sabado Gigante,” has set a wide-ranging pact with rival Telemundo to serve as a senior news correspondent and to launch a production venture.
Francisco, whose real name is Mario Kreutzberger, moves to Telemundo after ending his variety show last September after 53 uninterrupted years on the air, including 30 years in the U.S. via Univision.
Recruiting Kreutzberger is a coup for Telemundo, which remains in second place to its larger rival in the Spanish-language TV race but has been making inroads. Cesar Conde, chairman of NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises and NBCUniversal International Group, said the multi-year pact is twofold.
The deal includes the launch of a joint production company to develop and produce original content and formats for U.S. Hispanics and international audiences across multiple platforms, and a new role as senior news correspondent.
Kreutzberger, who turned 75 in December, will draw on his decades of experience interviewing world leaders, including President Obama, for a series of sit-down interviews with prominent figures. With the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, the Summer Olympics in Rio and World Cup in 2018, he will have no shortage of major news to cover.
“Mario has such a unique understanding of the Spanish-language audience both here in the U.S. and abroad,” Conde told Variety. “He knows how to adapt and create innovative content that connects with Spanish speakers around the world; that’s why we’re so excited to be working with him.”
Kreutzberger said he was energized by the broad opportunities offered by the new deal. He fielded offers from numerous outlets including Univision before settling in with Telemundo. The TV veteran, who divides his time between Miami and his native Chile, expressed his gratitude to Univision for building the Don Francisco brand with U.S. Hispanic viewers.
“At the end of the day Telemundo has been the fastest-growing Spanish-language producer in the U.S.,” Kreutzberger said. “And since what I know is how to produce, it’s an honor and a challenge [to embark on this new venture],” he said.
Acknowledging the need to make shows that can be viewed across all platforms and devices, he said: “One has to adapt to changes as I have done the past 50 plus years.” He noted that “Sabado Gigante” began broadcasting in black and white and evolved to include social media and other pivotal changes in the television landscape.
Kreutzberger has made shows that encompassed reality, games, talk, music and culinary interests, among other topics. He expects to use all of those skills in developing new material for Telemundo and NBCUniversal international TV divisions.
“I am at Telemundo’s disposition, am open to doing whatever they need from me,” he said.
On Univision, “Sabado Gigante” was replaced by Televisa’s variety show “Sabadazo” in October but its kid-targeted content didn’t click with viewers. It was moved back to its afternoon slot in January and replaced by newsmagazine program “Cronicas de Sabado” and a new one-hour Saturday edition of entertainment news show “Sal y Pimienta,” which also airs on its standard Sunday slot. Both primetime programs average a 0.4 rating among adults 18-49.
(Pictured: Don Francisco, Cesar Conde)