‘Sabado Gigante’: Latin America’s Ed Sullivan Prepares to Bow Out

When “Sabado Gigante” ends its 53-year run on Sept. 19, Univision says adios to a beloved variety program that has attracted as many as 2 million viewers a week in the U.S. alone.

Per Nielsen, the three-hour “Giant Saturday” has continued to rank as the top entertainment program on Saturday nights across key Hispanic demos. Key to its success has been host Mario Kreutzberger, aka Don Francisco, whose pioneering spirit kept the show fresh, topical, profitable and above all, entertaining. He’s been the equivalent of Ed Sullivan to Latin American viewers.

Sabado Gigante” featured singing competitions way before “American Idol” and dancing contests years before “Dancing With the Stars,” said Antonio Ruiz, a partner at leading U.S. Hispanic ad agency the Vidal Partnership.

Equally at ease interviewing presidents and children — he admits that he prefers the latter —  Kreutzberger insisted on integrating products and sponsored segments from the onset, which kept the show profitable.

Univision would not provide reasons behind the decision to end the show. The program’s viewership has skewed older of late. The network’s efforts to attract younger auds have included more Web interactivity and a boost to its social-media presence.

The show also introduced closed captions in English a few years ago in a bid to reach the fast-growing population of bilingual and English-dominant Hispanics in the U.S.

When asked about the secret of the variety show’s longevity, Kreutzberger has said: “It’s one big soup with a bit of everything thrown in, but we add new ingredients to it every week.”

Born in Chile to German Jewish refugee parents, Kreutzberger studied clothing design in New York. His love for fashion was on display for the first 30 years when his stage persona Don Francisco hosted “Sabado Gigante” in a new bespoke suit every week. He boasts an equally impressive shoe collection. He finally started rewearing a suit three, four times as he grew too busy to visit the tailor as often as before.

“Sabado Gigante” first launched in 1962 on Chile’s Channel 13. When the channel gave him a Saturday slot, he made it his own, expanding an initial one-hour show to eight hours, and he was on air for 10 hours a week between 1968 to 1986.

He then decided to take “Sabado Gigante” to Univision some 30 years ago, cutting the show time in half in order to do four hours in Chile and another four in Miami. For some six years, he shuttled between Miami and Santiago de Chile, spending three days and a half in each.

He now produces the show just once a month in Chile while the three versions of “Sabado Gigante” (U.S., international and Chilean) are shot in Miami, with half of it done live. Syndicated worldwide, “Sabado Gigante” became a weekly appointment for tens of millions of Spanish speakers around the world.

Now Kreutzberger joins David Letterman and Jon Stewart on the list of beloved TV hosts bringing their long tenures to a close this fall.

Pictured: Kreutzberger on “Sabado Gigante” with Korean pop star Psy in 2012

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