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10/27/2012 10:42 am ET

Sabado Gigante Marks Its 50th Anniversary (VIDEO)

Sabado Gigante Turns 50

It’ll be a special “Sábado Gigante” tonight.

Univision’s variety show celebrates its 50th anniversary Saturday. The three-hour show has aired continuously since 1962, when its iconic host “Dan Francisco” launched it as “Sábados Gigantes” in Chile -- earning it’s place as the longest-running television show in the Guiness Book of World Records. Univision acquired the program in 1986 and brought it to Miami.

For the uninitiated, NPR’s Mandalit del Barco proffered a good description of the cooky program:

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.

Sábado Gigante attracts 100,000 million viewers in a typical week and airs in more than 40 countries, ABC News reported this month.

At 71, Don Francisco, , whose real name is Mario Kreutzberger, remains one Spanish-language television's best-known personalities. Profiles written about Kreutzberger, the son of German Jewish refugees who emigrated to Chile to escape the Nazis, often note that Kreutzberger has created and sustained an on-air persona large enough to preside over one of television's highest-energy programs. Off-camera Kreutzberger, who will also celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary this year, is said to be a far more sedate and a man of varied and sober interests. The combination has rendered Sábado Gigante and its host the subject of public fascination and numerous stories, Tablet Magazine reported.

In terms of popularity, Don Francisco easily bests Bob Barker, with much greater international reach and an innate ability to predict the desires of viewers...He is friends with Latino luminaries like Gloria Estefan, Daddy Yankee, Sofia Vergara, Ricky Martin, and Andy Garcia, as well as President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry. He has a Hollywood star and also hosts a serious interview show, Don Francisco Presenta. He has been interviewed, parodied, imitated, and feted.

In 2002, The New York Times described the show, its massive audience and three-hour run time, as a unique fixture of Saturday night television. Kreutzberger shared what he views as the secret to the show's success.

''I can tell a joke and sing and dance a little, but not all that well,'' Mr. Kreutzberger said somewhat apologetically during an interview at an apartment he keeps here at the foot of the Andes Mountains. ''No, the reason I think our program has lasted 40 years is because it is what we Chileans call a cazuela,'' or stew. ''It has a little bit of everything, because life has a bit of everything.''

As one of the most successful shows in Spanish-language broadcasting, "Sábado Gigante" has attracted some of the top Latino talent in showbusiness. Household names like Shakira and Sofia Vergara made appearances there before they became ultra-famous. Check out some of the best moments in the show’s star-studded history in the video below. The show currently airs Saturday nights at 8 p.m. ET on Univision.

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