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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


FRANCISCO: (Singing in Spanish)

BARCO: "Sabado Gigante" celebrates its 50th anniversary show this Saturday night. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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