Dancers, wide-eyed spectators and loud, thumping music are all part of the three-hour “Sábado Gigante” spectacle. This episode, taped in late June 2007, featured a soccer theme in honor of a Gold Cup game between Mexico and the U.S.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
A cameraman gets a provocative angle before a commercial break on the weekly Spanish-language variety show “Sábado Gigante” (Giant Saturday), which set a Guinness World Record in 2012 for the longest running television show without a repeat. Don Francisco is the enduring host of the variety show that shuns all political correctness in catering to a largely Latino audience in the U.S. and international viewership spread throughout 42 countries.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
“Sábado Gigante” host Don Francisco will end his show in September.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Adonis Losada, left, gets into character as La Abuelita, or the Little Grandmother, backstage before the taping of a skit. The backstage scene is sometimes as wild as what happens on stage. Young men dressing up in drag à la Tim Conway from the old “Carol Burnett Show” can give the impression that one has entered a television time warp.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
“Sábado Gigante” includes a running-gag skit that parodies Spanish-language soap operas, the much-beloved telenovelas. Here, the cast of the skit prepares to open the show.(Michael Robinson Chavez / LAT)
Mexican singer Ernesto Perez gets encouragement from a stage manager before performing. The live-music acts are one of the most popular features of “Sábado Gigante,” and the spots are much coveted by recording artists because of the massive exposure the show receives around the Spanish-speaking world.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
I’m not going to mince any palabras, señoras y señores: I hated “Sábado Gigante.”
OK, maybe hate is a strong word, even for a show that I felt had the capacity to lobotomize if watched as a daylong marathon. I kid, I kid. Sort of.
I grew up in Boyle Heights, the son of Mexican immigrants. That means I was destined to spend a good part of my childhood watching “Sábado Gigante” and other Spanish-language TV shows.
My eyeballs had no choice. We lived in a 700-square-foot home, with a TV set that blared a nonstop parade of judge shows, talk shows and dopey low-budget sitcoms featuring adults dressed as school kids.
The telenovelas were better than American soap operas because the action was faster, even if the only relatively brown people seemed to be dutiful housekeepers and, of course, the humble priest. Mercifully, unlike their slower-paced American brethren, they also were finite.
“Sábado Gigante” seemed to have no end in sight.
I had nothing personal against the avuncular host “Don Francisco,” or “El Chacal,” the black-shrouded figure with a trumpet who yanked bad performers from the stage. I wished “El Chacal” had been around to yank away the television when far too many Spanish-language TV shows were on it, and I risked my wonderfully awesome mother’s ire if I changed the channel.
But “Sábado Gigante” did give me a chance to turn the tables and give my mom the ol’ stink-eye.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Don of Saturday Night
I can’t tell you how many times I’d plop myself on the living room couch, next to Mom, and then start to grouse about her watching “Sábado Gigante” or something like that. Suddenly I turned into Mom or Dad — preachy, lecturing. Obnoxious, basically, judging by my mother’s expression.
How can you watch that? Aren’t you insulted by these programs? Doesn’t this make you angry?
Ay, Hector, ya cállate.
Shut up, Hector.
I’d appeal to my dad, a man who came to the U.S. with a sixth-grade education and turned himself into a guy whom you could catch reading “The Brothers Karamazov” and “Anna Karenina” on the porch for support. Surely he would agree with me.
He wasn’t going to touch it. Then of course the next day I’d walk into his room and he’d be watching “Laura,” where the talk show host’s guests would be verbally and physically beating each other.
Let me repeat: I didn’t have a personal beef against “Sábado Gigante.” To me, it was just emblematic of the lack of diversity in Spanish-language programming. Sure, English-language TV had some staring-into-the-abyss shows, but you could always switch the channel and easily escape them — especially if you could afford cable.
Aside from some excellent news programs, Spanish-language programming seemed like a constant march of lowest common denominator programming.
There was no escape from it. At least that’s how it seemed to me.
Sure, “Sábado Gigante” sometimes got serious, hosting presidential candidates and delivering public service messages. But that wasn’t at the core of the show. I get it: It’s entertainment. To some, it was just good old-fashioned entertainment. I found the jokes at best corny, and at worst, buffoonish.
One thing’s for sure: The cleavage quotient on television is going to plummet with the cancellation of “Sabado Gigante.”
So I wish “Don Francisco” and “El Chacal” well. Vaya con dios. And I hope the many people who toiled behind the scenes can find employment elsewhere. Things are tough.
But I will not shed a tear for the end of “Sábado Gigante.”
And yet, here’s the thing: After all that, I know exactly what my mom would say if she happened to read this column.
Ay, Hector, ya cállate.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)