When it comes to the legendary stars of Hispanic television, few are bigger than Mario Kreutzberger, the 74-year-old Chilean known to generations of Latinos as “Don Francisco.”
That’s why there’s been buzz from Mexico City to Miami that Kreutzberger’s reign as host of Univision’s Sábado Gigante — the Saturday-night comedy, entertainment and contest-filled variety show he has helmed since 1962 — may soon be coming to an end. And his retirement might bring the Saturday-night staple to an end as well.
In February, the Mexican news outlet Crónica reported that Kreutzberger, an integral member of Univision’s stable of talent since the network’s 1986 launch, had announced his retirement.
Citing an interview on Univision’s weekday entertainment-news program El Gordo y La Flaca, Crónica reported that the TV personality “needs to rest” and not dedicate so much time to the planning and production of each week’s program in order to spend the final years of his life enjoying his family.
Crónica reported that his final appearance on Sábado Gigante, which runs from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. each Saturday, was set for March 28. But that wasn’t the case.
As of April 11, Don Francisco is still hosting the show, and his image appears prominently on Univision.com’s Sábado Gigante page. A network representative contacted by Hispanic Television Update declined comment, saying Univision does not respond to “rumors or speculation.”
For decades, Kreutzberger has been Spanish-language TV’s answer to The Price Is Right host Drew Carey — or perhaps Ed Sullivan — as Sábado Gigante’s format recalls variety programs not seen in primetime on English-language television since the Vietnam War era. The chatter about Kreutzberger’s departure from Univision, and the outright end to Sábado Gigante, continues to permeate conversations across Miami with those supposedly in the know.
Univision could have stood by Kreutzberger, citing a Feb. 19, 2013, NBC Latino report in which the host said, “I do not want to retire. I am still working. I am still developing new talent.”
Kreutzberger, who invented the “Don Francisco” name as a teenager as part of a comedy routine, has seen Sábado Gigante spread from Canal 13 Chile (which fired him after four weeks but brought him back after a public outcry) to stations in 146 nations across the globe. The show first aired in the U.S. in April 1983, prior to Spanish International Network (SIN) becoming Univision.
While it’s not known just how many viewers Sábado Gigante has in other countries, the show’s U.S. ratings and overall popularity has slowly waned over the last several years. A changing Hispanic population driven by births, rather than immigration, is one likely reason for the decline.
According to Nielsen data for the week ending March 29, Sábado Gigante attracted 749,000 adults aged 18-49 on March 28; Univision’s three weeknight primetime telenovelas drew roughly 1.5 million adults aged 18-49 in primetime from March 23-27.
Furthermore, Sábado Gigante’s March 28 broadcast attracted just 315,000 adults aged 18-34. By comparison, Univision’s 8 p.m. weeknight telenovela Mi Corazón es Tuyo drew 866,000 viewers 18-34.
Overall, though, Sábado Gigante’s total viewership continues to dwarf that of chief rival Telemundo. Its April 4 episode earned a 6.7 rating, attracting nearly 1.5 million viewers 2-plus. Telemundo’s Cine Millonario had a 2.6 rating, bringing in 601,000 viewers aged 2-plus.
Advertisers don’t base their media buys on 2-plus data, however. As Hispanic millennials have become the focal point of advertising agency discussions and “total market” debates, older Spanish-language television viewers may less attractive to marketers.
With Univision’s 2015 upfront presentation at New York’s Lyric Theater less than a month away, will advertisers be treated to Kreutzberger’s swan song?