Like millions of Hispanics across the United States and Latin America, I grew up with the family tradition of watching Mario Kreutzberger, our beloved Don Francisco, on Sábado Gigante every Saturday night. Tonight, the show celebrates the unimaginable in our industry, a 50-year anniversary on television. Don Francisco is the first and only person in television history who has achieved this feat. As the longest running variety show in history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Sábado Gigante has left an indelible mark in the television business, as we know it. Along the way, Don Francisco has extended his gift of entertaining as a “godfather” to many artists, inspired an industry, opened job opportunities and changed millions of lives for the better. Heads of state, celebrities — and even the pope — have all sought him out deeply touched by his impact and work. He is recognized in all corners of the world.
Sábado Gigante aired its first program in 1962 in Chile, Don Francisco’s native country. Over the years it continued growing, and moved to the United States in 1986. In the course of the show’s gargantuan trajectory, Don Francisco has helped launch the careers of some of our biggest stars in film, music and television. Millions of people around the globe, from young children to parents to grandparents, welcome his incomparable energy into their homes every Saturday night. Week after week, year after year, decade after decade. We have all laughed and cried with Don Francisco. And we are better for it.
Don Francisco would be the first one to tell you that he has not achieved this milestone alone. His wonderful wife, Temy, and family have worked and supported him since day one. Mario and Temy share Sábado Gigante 50th year with another equally special occasion: their 50th wedding anniversary. Fifty years, three children, nine grandchildren and the birth and continued success of a dream that remains one of the pillars of their union. In addition to his family, Don Francisco would also acknowledge the show’s team, a compilation of some of the best professionals in the field, most of who have worked by his side from the beginning. And last, his audience. They have fueled Don Francisco’s masterpiece, his passion and dedication for five decades.
Beyond Sábado Gigante’s 50th anniversary, Don Francisco is also admired for his extraordinary philanthropic work. In 1978, he launched the first-ever Teletón in Chile. Since its inception, the annual Teletón has raised more than $240 million, built 11 hospitals and cared for more than 80,000 children with cancer, autism, disabilities and special needs across Latin America. His work has been a guiding force behind the success of Teletón throughout the region, and this year for the first time we will continue this legacy as Univision will launch “TeletónUSA” in December. Don Francisco’s tireless work has forever changed how the Hispanic community in Latin America and the United States views philanthropy, and has helped us learn and appreciate the importance of contributing to a cause greater than oneself.
When I think of Don Francisco, three words come to mind: Character. Class. Compassion. These traits have transcended language, generations and decades. His work is a testament to the sentiment that one person, through hard work and perseverance, can change the world. On a personal note, Mario is a friend, a mentor and an inspiration to me as he has been to so many others. I have seen firsthand that his success is no accident, yet he still maintains the humility and dedication he had on his first day of work. Here’s to 50 great years and many more!
Cesar Conde is president of the Univision Networks.