Don Francisco Shares the 'Sabado Gigante' TV Recipe
"It's a soup. Basic ingredients, but we are changing always a little. And moving with the times. We're even doing skyped segments now!"
So says Don Francisco, aka Mario Kreuzberger, who is the longest-running talent on Hispanic television -- indeed the longest-running host of a single show anywhere.
Sabado Gigante, a combo of variety, music, skits and scantily clad starlets, has been number one on Univision, the Spanish-language television network in the U.S, for years, and Don Francisco has been its animator since its humble beginnings.
For perspective, moderator and Miami Herald reporter Glenn Garvey put it in a Q&A with the star Wednesday at NATPE: "He's been on the air longer than Marshall Dillon and Bart Simpson combined."
Don Francisco has helped make Univision's local station here the Number 3 network in the key demo on Saturday nights.
Kreuzberger's parents were German Jews who fled to Chile during World War II. His first language was German, his second was Spanish. He saw his first television set in 1959. And he watched and imbibed from afar Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Milton Berle and Art Linklater.
"I was inspired by American television," Don Francisco said about his passion for the biz way back in Chile in the early 60s.
As for the secret to his success: "You always have to think to do something new." Just this past week we launched a lyrical opera contest on air, which is a first."
Even back in Chile and then in Miami, Don Francisco said his aim was always to be "a family show and we always respected the audience."
But coming to Miami was a big challenge.
"We have a very similar culture but I realized I was now working for the biggest minority in the U.S., not the mainstream culture," he explained.
"You have to talk about what it takes to make the American dream. That's what our audience came here for," the entertainer said in his very likeable, if eccentric, English.
Not that it was always easy.
When Don Francisco first went out on an ad sales call with his station colleagues in Florida, the potential advertiser they were pitching actually said, "Your viewers are my shoplifters " -- an indication of just how crude the market was back in the mid-80s. And how the mainstream culture just didn't get the Hispanic thing.
At that time, Don Francisco estimated, there were nine million Spanish speakers, now there are 52 million in the country.
Much has changed, but not his enthusiasm for the show.
Don Francisco will celebrate his 50th year on air in 2012.