Hasta luego, Don Fernando
The show aired its final episode last night, after 53 continuous years with Mario Kreutzberger/Don Francisco as the host. The show, which ran for 4 hours each Saturday evening, has long been a must-watch. It's hard to describe ... a combination of game show, audience participation, variety show, celebrity performances and interviews, skits and heart-wrenching human interest pieces, all pulled together and kept fast-paced and lively by Kreutzberger, now 72. Product placement was always a big part of the show, long before marketers knew the term.
Spanish TV's biggest star is an unlikely one. The Chilean-born son of Jewish-German immigrants, he began his TV career doing brief comedy segments on a local TV station in Chile in 1962. The show expanded in format and distribution in the 1970s, aired throughout most of Latin America. In 1986, the show moved to Miami when it began airing on Univision, giving it broad distribution in the U.S. while continuing to dominate throughout Latin America.
The final Sábado Gigante drew 3.4 million total viewers, and it ranked first among the 18-49 demos in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston, San Francisco and Phoenix. Don Francisco also drew personal farewells on-air from President Obama and the First Lady, Marc Anthony, Plácido Domingo and Shakira.
I used to watch parts of the show periodically, as a way to practice my high-school Spanish. And ok, I'll admit, I didn't mind seeing the show's many long-legged muchachas dancing and bouncing around in short, tight skirts. But Don Francisco had a certain personality that kept me watching, even if I couldn't understand every word.
Kreutzberger has long been a solid supporter of charities and various causes. In interviews, he said he plans to continue that work and promises we'll see him from time to time on specials for Univision.
Hasta luego, Don Francisco.