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'Sabado Gigante,' Longest-Running TV Variety Show, Ends This Weekend

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The world's longest-running TV variety show is ending on Saturday. "Sabado Gigante" has loomed large in living rooms across the U.S. and Latin America for more than half a century. Commentator Cynthia Leonor Garza has many memories tied to the show. But she says it's been on well past its expiration date.

CYNTHIA LEONOR GARZA, BYLINE: Every Saturday night as a kid, I used to sit on my grandparents' sofa and watch the opening to "Sabado Gigante" before heading off to Spanish mass.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: "Sabado Gigante."

GARZA: We'd come back after two hours of church to find Don Francisco, the stage name for host Mario Kreutzberger, still belting out product jingles. "Sabado Gigante" was loud and frenzies, a kaleidoscope constantly shifting forms from comedy skits with cross-dressing men to singing competitions to family reunions and car giveaways. We couldn't miss it if we tried, especially then when my grandparent's television knob gave us 13 options, only one in Spanish. And not much has changed over the years. So now the humor feels like an unwanted hangover from a previous era. When I watch now, I cringe. The show is shameless about its objectification of women. There's a whole series of contests based on looks.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARZA: The contest Miss Colita focuses on the backside, while Miss Pechonalidad is a play on words, combining the Spanish words for personality and breasts. There's even a beauty contest - Miss Chiquitita - for little girls. In this Miss Legs contest, Don Francisco ogles an audience member.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

MARIO KREUTZBERGER: (As Don Francisco, Speaking Spanish).

GARZA: "These are the kind I like. I've had my eye on them," he says. The first contestant struts out, all legs. She's hidden beneath a gift box from the waist up.

Sex - that is the one thread that runs through this family show. But like a lot of folks who grew up with it, I have mixed feelings about "Sabado Gigante." I actually enjoy it sometimes. I feel pride when I watch 5-year-olds working it like old pros in the salsa dance competition as if that dancing gene was a part of all our Latino DNA. I appreciate how through language, "Sabado Gigante" connected me, a fifth-generation Texan, to my grandparents and to Spanish-speakers across the Americas. But what might have been acceptable or even funny way back then is now offensive. I'm actually relieved "Sabado Gigante" is almost over. This Saturday, when Don Francisco asks the question he asks every week...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

KREUTZBERGER: (As Don Francisco) Que dice el publico?

GARZA: ...What do the people say? My answer - basta - enough, now give us something better.

CORNISH: Commentator Cynthia Leonor Garza on the end of "Sabado Gigante," which airs its final show Saturday night on Univision.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SABADO GIGANTE")

KREUTZBERGER: (As Don Francisco, singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.