In the end, as my mom says, "la chispa que enciende todo es Don Francisco." He is the spark that sets it all off. Perhaps the most interesting idea to emerge from his appearance at the Museum of the Moving Image last month at an event honoring him was his acute awareness of the history of visual media and how it continues to change.
"We started out in black and white, then we became color," said Don Francisco. "Then there was the remote control and then digital signal, and the Internet. But the content is not different. What's different is the platform. Nobody can avoid the need for content. But what it will be is the question. Spanish or English? Bilingual?"
Perhaps the answer was at the end of last week's show, when Don Francisco brought out the legendary Italian-American singer Tony Bennett to peform a song from his new album, Viva Duets. Don Francisco, as he does when English-speakers appear, acted as translator as he interviewed Bennet about the album, which features bilingual duets with singers like Christina Aguilera, Juan Luis Guerra, Marc Anthony, and Thalía.
Then he introduced Los Fabulosos Cadillacs' singer Vicentico to sing Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart" as a duet. Bennett sang a verse in English, Vicentico followed in Spanish, and the loping beat remained the same. Suddenly a1950s country western hit, a slice of Americana, had become a bilingual Latin pop classic.
It's clear that with the explosive growth of the Latino community, we begin to live different lives, live in different languages or combinations thereof. But some things never change, and Don Francisco continues to rule the Spanish-language television world because he lives by one all-important rule about entertainment: "To be successful, you have to give the audience what it wants."
Univision will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Sabado Gigante with a four-hour special this Saturday, at 7 p.m. EST.