UNIVISION'S CASH COW 'SABADO GIGANTE' COMES TO LOS ANGELES

Outside the Hollywood Palladium, traffic was stacked up like a bad day at Los Angeles International Airport.

Cars cruised up and down Vine Street looking for any parking lot that wasn't already crammed with vehicles.

Women, dressed in their Sunday best, tottered on high heels as they strode purposefully down the sidewalks. Men sporting cowboy boots and crisply ironed shirts maintained an equally brisk pace as they hurried toward the 60-year-old theater where Lawrence Welk had hosted his TV program for a decade, Elvis Presley once played in the 1950s, and champion boxing matches have been won and lost.

But on this cloudy afternoon, the man inside generating all the commotion wasn't a musician or a boxer. In some people's opinion, he's greater than that.

He's Don Francisco, one of the most famous icons of Spanish-language TV. For 38 years, he has been hosting "Sabado Gigante" ("Giant Saturday"), the longest-running variety show in TV history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Something of a mix between "Let's Make a Deal" and "The Ed Sullivan Show," "Sabado Gigante" has been a cash cow for Los Angeles-based Univision Communications Inc. ever since it brought Don Francisco from Chile in 1986 to host the program from Miami. The four-hour show is normally broadcast from Florida to more than 20 countries around the world.

But in all its years on the air, Don Francisco (whose real name is Mario Kreutzberger) had never recorded a full-length show in Los Angeles.

Last week, he and his crew were in town to make history and to boost the ratings of his show.

"Over the years, the ratings have fluctuated stronger on the East Coast and weaker on the West Coast," said Rochelle Newman, president of Enlace Communications Inc., a Spanish-language ad agency in L.A. "I believe that is why they have come out here to film."

Don Francisco, whose show began in 1962 in his native Chile, has always had a strong following throughout the Spanish-speaking world. But because his program is recorded in Miami, it has a Cuban and Latin-American flavor with music, jokes and contestants from those regions. In Los Angeles, most Latino immigrants are from Mexico.

"Mexican consumers have different musical tastes and cultural instincts," Newman said. "But for many new arrivals in this country, it gives you a window on American things."

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