What to know about ‘Sábado Gigante,’ which is leaving TV after 53 years

‘Sábado Gigante’

“Sábado Gigante” host Don Francisco will end his show in September.

(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

"Sabado Gigante" is going off the air in September after appearing on TV for 3,000 Saturdays in a row. What you need to know if you've never heard of the longest-ever running variety show or its ubiquitous host:

The show actually started airing on Sundays.

Mario Kreutzberger, better known as Don Francisco, began hosting a Sunday program, “Show Dominical,” in his native Chile in 1962. Its name was soon changed and moved to Saturday nights. The three-hour Spanish-language show eventually landed at Univision in 1986 and it is produced in Miami.

Its list of famous guests is very long.

It's been 53 years, so a lot of people have been on the show. It's a required stopover for Latino celebrities, but the show has also attracted an enviable list of English-speaking guests including Jerry Lee Lewis, Tony Bennett, and Bill and Melinda Gates. President Obama was on the show in 2010, and a number of presidential candidates have stopped by.

Don Francisco is very famous and the show has been a ratings hit for a very long time.

In 2006, ABC News' David Puente put it like this:

"If you do not know who he is, you might not understand what kind of country you're living in. ... The program draws close to 100 million viewers; that's more than 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,' 'The Late Show with David Letterman' and 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' combined."

The show now airs in more than 40 countries and boasts tens of millions of weekly viewers, including about 2 million in the U.S., even though it airs on Saturday nights, a traditionally difficult night in American television.

The show has a significant place in English-speaking culture, too.

Thanks to its incredible longevity, many English-speaking Americans have at least heard of the program, if not tuned in on occasion to see the wacky and campy proceedings unfold. In perhaps one of the surest signs of modern American cool, Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert regularly parodied the Miami-based program by posing as Esteban Colberto, host of the Spanish-language newscast "Colberto Reporto Gigante."

Francisco was also one of Jay Leno's first guests during his first week hosting "The Tonight Show" in 1992.

Why is the show coming to an end now?

Executives told The Times they wanted a graceful exit for the show and its host, and a source said Francisco wanted to go out on top of the ratings.

On the occasion of the show's 50th anniversary in 2012, Francisco said he was hoping to launch an English version, was obsessed with keeping the show relevant to younger viewers, and hoped to be around long enough to celebrate what would've been the show's 70th anniversary.

"In my soul, it doesn't feel like 50 years," Francisco then told The Times. "In my body, I can feel it. I don't have the elasticity that I had 50 years ago. But the show energizes me ... how could it not? We'll see if I say that in 2022 when we're celebrating again."

Univision says that post-"Sabado Gigante," Francisco will host entertainment specials and help develop projects for the network.

Staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this article.

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