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'Sábado Gigante' Celebrates 50 With Lots Of Variety

Oct 26, 2012
Originally published on October 26, 2012 4:07 pm

For 50 years, Spanish-speaking TV viewers have tuned into the weekly variety show Sábado Gigante. Host Don Francisco commands a festive live audience in Miami, with celebrity interviews, musical performances, goofy sidekicks and scantily clad dancers. The three-hour show is broadcast throughout the Americas.

Ivalisse Pina has been watching Sábado Gigante for 25 years. The 61-year-old retiree from the Dominican Republic is a die-hard fan. It's a fun show, she says from her home in Orlando, where she watches every week with her grandchildren. They share popcorn, she drinks her Coors Light and they laugh along with Francisco.

"Don Francisco is a strong character," she says. He's funny, he's happy, and mostly, he reminds her of her late husband. Pina says she likes the weekly car raffle and a recurring skit about a goofy hospital.

For half a century, Sábado Gigante has been a raucous romp, with hours and hours of musical guests and dancers. It's a variety show; it's a talk show; it's a game show. Think Price Is Right meets American Idol meets The Gong Show. Francisco has his regular sidekicks, like "La Cuatro," who gets slapped for being naughty and sings very badly, and a masked character known as "El Chacal," the jackal. Whenever there's a really awful singer, he blows his trumpet and gets the audience to boo.

The show includes cheesy skits and corny audience sing-alongs, and the risque "Miss Colita" contest, with close-up shots of women dancing around in string bikinis.

A younger generation of Sábado Gigante fans say they grew up watching the show with their families. At a street festival in Whittier, east of Los Angeles, Ray Marquez, 33, says he still tries to sneak a peek when his wife isn't looking.

"I love that show, even though I don't speak Spanish," he says with a laugh. "It's the women. ... Those dances where they had 15 girls dancing at the same time. Sorry ... I'm a dude."

But Daniel Rojas, who's 29, finds it all tacky and offensive. "I wouldn't let my kids watch it," he says. "There's too many half-naked women on it. And there's like a double meaning to their jokes so the show's not on there for kids — even though they do have that kids section where they ask kids questions. But I think that's for the amusement of grown-ups. Kinda like 'kids say the darndest things' kind of thing."

New York blogger Laura Martinez says the long-running show has launched many a career for Latino singers and dancers. And she says Francisco hawks cars and sodas and beer for his sponsors. "Sábado Gigante is an advertiser's dream come true," she says. "You have the entire live audience singing and dancing to the tune of your ad."

Martinez, who's 43, has also watched the show in Mexico, Chile and Argentina. She says for many Latinos and Latin Americans, Sábado Gigante has been a staple.

"It's old-fashioned, and I think that's part of its success," she says. "It's remained the same. ... There is La Chacal, there is El Chacal with the trompeta, there is Don Francisco. You can find Latin Americans who say they hate him, love them, they don't care. But it's hard to find someone who says 'who?' Everyone knows who this guy is."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's talk about TV. For 50 years Spanish-speaking TV viewers have tuned into the weekly variety show "Sabado Gigante".

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Spanish spoken)

INSKEEP: The host of that program, Don Francisco, commands a festive live audience in Miami, with celebrity interviews, musical performances, goofy sidekicks and scantily clad dancers.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

DON FRANCISCO: (Singing in Spanish)

INSKEEP: This is a three-hour show - a three-hour show broadcast throughout the Americas. For the golden anniversary of this program, NPR's Mandalit del Barco talked with fans in California, New York and Florida.

IVALISSE PINA: Don Fransisco presenta "Sabado Gigante."

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Ivalisse Pina is a die-hard fan. The retired 61 year old Dominican says she's been watching "Sabado Gigante" for 25 years.

PINA: (Spanish spoken)

BARCO: It's a fun show, she says from her home in Orlando, where she watches every week with her grandchildren. They share popcorn, she drinks her Coors Light, and they laugh along with Don Francisco.

PINA: (Spanish spoken)

BARCO: Don Francisco is a strong character, she says, he's funny, he's happy, and mostly, he reminds her of her late husband. Pina says she likes the weekly car raffle, and a recurring skit about a goofy hospital.

PINA: (Spanish spoken)

BARCO: For half a century, "Sabado Gigante" has been a raucous romp, with hours and hours and hours of musical guests and dancers. It's a variety show. It's talk show. It's a game show. Think "Price is Right" slash "American Idol" slash "The Gong Show." Don Francisco has his regular sidekicks like "La cuatro," who gets slapped for being naughty and sings very badly.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

IL CUATRO: (Singing in Spanish)

BARCO: And a masked character known as "El Chacal" - the jackal. Whenever there's a really awful singer, he blows his trumpet and gets the audience to boo.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in Spanish)

BARCO: The show includes cheesy skits, and corny audience sing-a-longs and the risque "Miss Colita" contest, with close-up shots of women dancing around in string bikinis.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

FRANCISCO: (Spanish spoken)

BARCO: A younger generation of "Sabado Gigante" fans say they grew up watching the show with their families. At a street festival in Whittier, East of L.A., 33 year old Ray Marquez says he still tries to sneak a peek when his wife isn't looking.

RAY MARQUEZ: I love that show. Even though I don't speak Spanish I love that show.

BARCO: What do you like about the show?

MARQUEZ: Well for me, the women.

(LAUGHTER)

MARQUEZ: Solo para los hombres. Those dances where they had, like, 15 girls dancing at the same time. Sorry. I'm a dude.

BARCO: But Daniel Rojas, who's 29, finds it all tacky and offensive.

DANIEL ROJAS: I wouldn't let my kids watch it. There's too many, like, half-naked women on it, you know? And, like, the jokes, they're kind of like - there's, like, a double meaning to their jokes. So the show's not on there for kids, at least not anymore, even though they do have that kids segment where they ask kids questions.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Si, si, si.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Si, si, si, si.

FRANCISCO: (Spanish spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: Si, si, si, si, si, si.

BARCO: New York blogger Laura Martinez says the long-running show has launched many a career for Latino singers and dancers. And she says Don Francisco hawks cars and sodas and beer for his sponsors.

LAURA MARTINEZ: "Sabado Gigante" is an advertiser's dream come true. You have the entire live audience singing and dancing to the tune of your ad.

BARCO: Martinez, who's 43, has also watched the show in Mexico, Chile and Argentina. She says for many Latinos and Latin Americans, "Sabado Gigante" has been a staple.

MARTINEZ: I think it's old fashioned, but I think that's also part of its success. It's remained the same. Oh, there is la cuatro. There is el Chacal with the trompeta. There is Don Francisco. You can find Latin Americans who will tell you they hate him, love them, they don't care, but it's hard to find one that is going to tell you who? Everyone knows who this guy is.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

FRANCISCO: (Singing in Spanish)

BARCO: "Sabado Gigante" celebrates its 50th anniversary show this Saturday night. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.