Before Univision became Univision, “Sábado Gigante” was already being seen on TV screens across the U.S. A hit variety show from Chile had set shop in Miami and, for almost three decades, it has been a staple of the U.S. Latino community, with host Don Francisco at the helm.
The announcement that the show will end this year invites reflection on a TV phenomenon that has always had the immigrant community as a protagonist. Of course, there are also El Chacal, the models, the audience’s enthusiastic sing-alongs of show segment themes or commercial sponsor jingles. All of this enlivened Saturday nights for millions of people who yearned for their native country’s humor, entertainment and idiosyncrasies.
U.S. sponsors gradually realized that on both sides of the screen there was an important consumer’s market made of people who came to the U.S. in search of a new life, and who had hard-earned money to spend. Later, the political establishment came to recognize that the Latino community also contained voters, and started parading on TV, fumbling their Spanish.
During these 30 years, Latino demographics exploded. The only Spanish-speaking network for many years, Univision shrewdly capitalized on this growth and became the media giant it is today. Throughout, “Sábado Gigante” was a key component of this expansion. Today, a number of Spanish-speaking networks compete for this broad and diverse audience.
While many critique the quality level of TV in Spanish – often specifically pointing at “Sábado Gigante” –, the viewers’ preference was evident for many years. Then, between 1986 and 2015, the community underwent widespread changes, and what used to be popular was not anymore. This is how cycles end.
This is also how the present becomes history. It will tell of how, for 30 years, the Spanish-speaking community in the U.S. was entertained and informed and shared their Saturday afternoons in front of the TV as a family. That was the period when immigrants became the consumers and voters of today. In its own way, “Sábado Gigante” had a role in this progress.