No goodbyes from Don Francisco as TV's 'Sabado Gigante' ends

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Miami (AFP) - Mario Kreutzberger admits that after 53 years he's running out of energy to portray "Don Francisco," the affable host with a booming voice of the Spanish-language variety show 'Sabado Gigante.'

The show, a staple of the Florida-based Univision network, will set a Guinness record for the longest continually running show when it airs its final show on Saturday.

However, Kreutzberger, now 74, is adamant that he's not ready for Don Francisco to vanish.

"That would mean death, it would be to hang up my soul," Kreutzberger told AFP in an interview at the Univision headquarters in Miami.

For three hours every Saturday evening, 'Sabado Gigante' mixes slapstick comedy, contests, live musical performances and women in bikinis with serious, sometimes touching interviews. Most of the show is recorded before a live audience.

Over the years Don Francisco has interviewed some of the most popular Spanish-language performers, including Shakira, back when she had dark hair; Jennifer Lopez, when she starred in her first movie about slain Mexican singer Selena; a young singer named Enrique Iglesias; and a Colombian model named Sofia Vergara, now the star of the TV sitcom 'Modern Family.'

More than any telenovela, 'Sabado Gigante' is a show that at its height appealed to the Latin American diaspora in the United States.

According to Univision, it has a viewership of two million including people across Latin America.

- Calm but nervous -

"Sabado Gigante" -- which translates as "Giant Saturday" -- has been on TV every Saturday evening since it first aired in Chile in August 1962, back in the black-and-white era. Univision brought Kreutzberger and his show to Miami in 1986.

During this long run "Mario Kreutzberger grew 53 years older, but Don Francisco only grew about 15," the Chilean-born showman said.

Kreutzberger, who in person is more relaxed than the jovial Don Francisco, cannot hide his jitters.

"I'm calm but nervous, because I will have to start a new and different cycle of life," he said.

"Don Francisco has to show the public that he's not tired, that he has no afflictions, that he has no problems, that doesn't pay taxes -- while Mario does all of that and even fuels Don Francisco. And as the years go buy Mario has to put in more energy to fuel Don Francisco," Kreutzberger said.

"Sabado Gigante," he said, is a "soup" with four basic ingredients: "music, humor, interview and games."

The show's host offers no apologies for his beauty pageants and jokes that some see as homophobic.

He says he puts on the show "with the greatest responsibility and respect towards the public, but having said that, I also told you that Don Francisco is not a realist like Mario Kreutzberger."

"It also happens that because we want to ... keep our audience we must make concessions."

And what about the recurring 'Miss Colita' ('Miss Tail') beauty contest, in which the women's behinds are ogled?

"When we hold a swimsuit contest ... we are admiring the beauty of women," he said.

On Sunday, the day after the last show airs, Kreutzberger says that he'll sit down to plan future projects. Since he's still on contract with Univision, viewers can expect to see Don Francisco appear in network specials.

He also plans to spend more time with his wife of 53 years, his three children and his nine grandchildren. And he's already thought of a new hobby -- writing.

He will miss "everything," Kreutzberger said, because the show fit him "like a tailored suit."

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