There were songs. There were silly hats. Confetti and El Chacal, even. But the man of the three-plus hours did not cry.
Mario Kreutzberger, better known under his stage name Don Francisco, closed the decades-long book on Spanish-language mainstay “Sábado Gigante” with an emotional send-off celebration Saturday night at Univision studios in Miami.
After 53 years of being a familiar glow -- lit up by zany sketches, scantily-clad women, bizarre TV characters such as El Chacal, and Kreutzberger’s raucous stage persona -- that had been a fixture inside millions of Latino homes on Saturday nights, “Sábado Gigante” will beam no more.
“This show is going to be different, distinctive,” Kreutzberger said of the finale at the top of the show. “We want a spirit of celebration. We want there to be emotion, but we want it to be a modest show that you would want to participate from your home. Because this is a story of triumph. But it’s not just my triumph.”
The 74-year-old Chilean-born emcee thanked everyone from his staff and Univision executives to his friends and family (namely his wife, three children and eight grandchildren -- all of whom were in the in-studio audience. Outside were more than a thousand fans who Kreutzberger said symbolized the “heart of [the] program.”
The star-studded send-off included in-studio appearances from recording artists such as Juanes and Luis Fonsi and Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos, plus recorded messages from Shakira, Marc Anthony and political luminaries such as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
“Don Francisco, congratulations on an extraordinary career,” the president said. “For decades, you’ve helped millions of Americans appreciate that the family is No. 1.”
Highlighting how much time has passed since the launch of “Sábado Gigante,” which began its run in Chile in 1962 before it jumped to Univision in 1986, Kreutzberger welcomed former members of the “Clan Infantil” (Children’s Panel) who are now adults. Those that appeared included Pamela Silva Conde, current co-anchor of Univision’s newsmagazine “Primer Impacto” (“First Impact”), and telenovela actress Sherlyn González.
Of course, the show’s long life was also illuminated through the supply of retrospective clips that peppered the finale.
Then there were the familiar bits that have become hallmarks of the variety show. In a salute to the program’s fascination with games and prizes, cars were given away to three audience members.
There was even the shocking reveal of mysterious character El Chacal de la Trompeta, a “Sábado Gigante” favorite for many viewers. The gig turned out to be a role passed down through the generations. The unmasking revealed Julian Gil as the man behind the trumpet for the last 20 years -- a role Gil’s grandfather and father inhabited before him.
But the jam-packed celebration -- broadcast live simultaneously in the United States, Chile and Mexico -- eventually wound down with an emotional act of closure and symbolism.
Kreutzberger told the story of how he had a special box of keepsakes from the show’s 40th anniversary celebration. At the time, he told his guests: “Nothing can take away from me 40 years of TV ... but I will invite you to another party in 10 years.”
And he kept his word, throwing another party for the show’s 50th anniversary in 2012. As audience members grew teary-eyed hearing the story, Kreutzberger continued, saying he made another box of keepsakes for that anniversary. But he didn’t close it. He recalled saying, “I’m not covering it now because someone will either close it for me or I will. ... And this is the time.”
With that, he closed the box on stage.
After a bit more reflection on the show’s journey from Chile to Miami, Kreutzberger ended with these words:
“Today we finish. We close this stage. ... But as I reiterated many times: A program is not made by one person. That’s impossible. That doesn’t exist. It’s a team effort. This type of program and production is going with us. There’s many of us -- the ones you don’t see or know, but they put all their effort, love and talent into this.”
He was then joined on stage by many of the crew and personalities that were a part of the show through the years.
“All of them are going to travel with me because we’re leaving on a bus of hope,” he continued. “We’re leaving on the bus of tomorrow. We’re leaving on a bus that opens up a new stage. Life continues. And because of that, all I want to say in the end is: ‘Sábado Gigante,’ hasta siempre, buenas noches.”
He walked off the stage, shaking hands and giving his wife a kiss, before making his way outside to say goodbye to the throngs of fans.
Looking sorrowful, but not tearful, he made the walk to a giant tour bus emblazoned with “Sábado Gigante.” As he climbed aboard, he looked back out to the fans and waved goodbye.
“Vamos!” he said.
The bus then began its journey to tomorrow.
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