Don Francisco, the ‘showman’ of America, reinvents himself to adapt to the changes imposed by the pandemic

Hispanic television legend Mario Kreutzberger, better known as “Don Francisco.” Giovanni Alma / CNN

In a small studio in Miami, Mario Kreutzberger (Talca, Chile, 80 years old) asks the Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi, who hears him on the other side of a screen: “How did you handle this pandemic? Because an artist is used to being very little at home ”. The question sums up the context in which Kreutzberger launches a new show, in an effort to reinvent itself in the face of the worst pandemic humanity has faced in a century. Kreutzberger, Don Francisco, as he is known throughout America for the popularity of his program Sábado Gigante, has built his small studio with three people, conditioned to avoid contagion of covid-19, from where he records Reflections 2021, the series of interviews that CNN has been broadcasting in Spanish since Monday. “When there is so much to say, one cannot remain silent. This is a different world and we have to adapt. I’m doing something completely different from what I was doing ”, explains Don Francisco in an interview conducted, of course, through the zoom platform.

Between sips of soda, the presenter, with 59 years of experience in television, explains that he is learning « many things », because this television world is no longer the same in which it triumphed decades ago, with large stages, large orchestras, many effects for the public and segments that required a huge production. Now it’s him, a microphone and the computer. With Reflections, he says, he seeks to delve into the humanity of his guests, with themes ranging from love, migration, being overweight, those moments « when the water reaches one’s neck » or the need to reinvent oneself. “It has a disadvantage to do virtual interviews, because it is much less what you can find out. But it also has advantages, because people at this moment want to say much more than they normally say, ”argues Don Francisco.

Born in Chile 80 years ago, descendant of a family of Jewish origin that fled Nazi Europe, Don Francisco became the most famous television presenter in Latin America. His program Sábado Gigante ran for 53 years, until it was canceled in 2015, making it the longest-running variety show in television history by Guinness World Records. Every weekend millions of people sat in front of the small screen to perform a three-hour ritual, under the motto « separated by distance, united under the same language. » In that show there were singing contests, travel reports, interviews, comedy segments, well-known artists who had a huge projection platform on that stage and even cars were given away. What does it mean now for Mario Kreutzberger to face a simpler format? « Every day I learn, because in each show I’m doing something different, » he says.

The presenter is aware that now people consume content in a different way, with the rise of social networks that allow a more dynamic modality, with the active participation of audiences; the constant change in technological devices such as mobile phones or the irruption of streaming. “Before you looked for people, now people look for you. If it seems to you that Don Francisco is a person that may interest you, you will look for that schedule and you will see him. Before we did a thousand things so that people would come to us. Now people are looking for their niche ”.

The producers of Reflections have enabled social networks so that the public can participate by sending questions, videos and their own reflections, which will be presented in the program. Kreutzberger and his team hope that the series of interviews – which are broadcast every day until February 26, at 9:00 p.m. Miami time – will end to find out how the program was received by audiences. “I want to know what people feel after these two weeks. I have to see what I did well, what I did wrong, what I can improve, « he says.

In the first episodes of Reflections, in addition to Luis Fonsi, the Chilean writer Isabel Allende, the Venezuelan singer José Luis Rodríguez, “El Puma”, or the Mexican Yuri and Gloria Trevi have appeared from their computer screens. The interviews revolve around the experiences of these characters, because as Kreutzberger says, his strength is « the analysis of the personality » of his interviewees, « see who they are, how they came to be what they are. »

The recording of this program is one of the few incursions that the presenter makes outside the home, being a person at high risk if he is infected with covid-19 due to his age. Although he has already been vaccinated, he says he was afraid during the most difficult moments of a pandemic that has left more than 489,000 deaths in the United States. “I have felt that these have been very hard times, because one has to adapt again, become a routine. Before, you would go out to work all day and meet people, talk to many people. Now, look at the value that one gives to a kiss, a hug, a handshake, « he says. But neither the pandemic, nor the changes imposed by technological advance, nor age make the idea of ​​retirement go through Mario Kreutzberger’s head. When asked if he has weighed in on it, he reflects: “They take you away. It is removed by physical conditions, mental conditions, the public, health. But retire now when it is a pleasure to do this? This is a passion ”.