Spanish-language media star Mario Kreutzberger -- better known to audiences as “Don Francisco" -- is returning to television.
Nearly six months after Kreutzberger's long-running variety show, “Sábado Gigante," ended its popular run on Univision, Kreutzberger has struck a partnership with Univision's archrival, Telemundo.
Telemundo, owned by media giant NBCUniversal, said late Monday that it has signed a multiyear deal with Kreutzberger to form a joint production company. The goal will be to produce original programming for Latino audiences in the U.S. and Latin America.
"Unique talent is timeless, and Mario has incredible insight into this community and into creating innovative content that connects and engages audiences," Cesar Conde, chairman of NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, said in an interview with The Times.
More immediately, Kreutzberger will join Telemundo's news division as a special correspondent. The Chilean-born entertainer will be tasked with conducting high-profile interviews with politicians, celebrities and other newsmakers.
"I'm starting a new era," Kreutzberger said in an interview with The Times. "I will try to do the best interviews that I can and find the best personalities."
Asked whether he wanted to interview Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Kreutzberger was non-committal.
"It would depend on [Telemundo], whether they wanted me to do that and the conditions of any interview," Kreutzberger said. "I'm so new that I haven't really talked to many people in the company. This deal was made in the last 48 hours."
Kreutzberger said he's more intrigued by human interest stories than conversations that delve into the nuts and bolts of politics.
"I would look more for the human side, rather than the political side," he said. "I would like interviews to be more about the life of the person."
Financial terms of the Telemundo arrangement were not disclosed. Negotiations have been ongoing for nearly two months, with other media companies expressing interest in landing the man behind the popular "Don Francisco" persona.
The move reunites Kreutzberger with Conde, who previously served as a top executive at Univision until Conde decamped for NBCUniversal a few years ago. Kreutzberger said he's known Conde for nearly 20 years.
The partnership comes as Telemundo continues to expand its programming ambitions by owning more content.
Owning shows rather than licensing them is part of a business strategy that enables Telemundo to aggressively sell its Spanish-language content to TV networks in other countries, increasing profitability.
Univision rolled the credits on Kreutzberger's zany "Sábado Gigante" in September, even though the Saturday night staple continued to deliver sizeable audiences. But the audience was graying, and Univision was looking to trim programming costs in advance of a corporate public offering that has since been postponed.
Kreutzberger, for his part, praised Univision. He said he learned much from his long association with Univision, the media company that boasts the nation's most popular Spanish-language network.
"I'm very grateful to Univision for the 30 years," he said.
Kreutzberger launched his variety show in 1962 in his native Chile. The show, which was produced at Univision's facilities in Miami, became an enduring hit that lasted 53 years and appeared in more than 40 countries, including the United States and in Latin America and Europe.
"I started in television when it was black and white," Kreutzberger said. "Now, new content has to include Internet media and social media.... I've seen so many changes but I am very excited to do something new."