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The rarity of a long-running books TV show

TV host Cristina Mucci during a programme earlier this year.
TV host Cristina Mucci during a programme earlier this year.
TV host Cristina Mucci during a programme earlier this year.
By Andrew Graham-Yooll
For the Herald

Cristina Mucci knows and tells all about writers and reading early every Saturday

If you’re not an early Saturday morning television watcher you may have missed Cristina Mucci. She has been around for some time. Not always, but during nearly three decades she has led a slot on Argentine and Latin American writers, branching out to include playwrights and filmmakers.

Cristina Mucci is a doyen of sorts in the books gig on TV. There are others, of course, on Canal (á), Osvaldo Quiroga’s books shelter somewhere in the small hours, and there’s another on the Canal de la Ciudad cable channel. But having run for 27 years, Mucci leads the field and says she still wants to carry on for some time.

She has no idea how many writers she has interviewed since 1987, “and I don’t know how many shows I have made. I’m often asked. Let’s see, we’ve been going out with 39 weeklies a year for 27 years. Wow, that’s 1053 shows, with at least three writers each time. Let’s round-off the number at one thousand appearances. Some people are more memorable than others. Some refuse to be seen on television. Novelist and short-story prize winner Marco Denevi never accepted our invitation. Silvina Ocampo (sister of Victoria) also refused.”

The programme’s rather contrived name is Los siete locos (The Seven Madmen), which starts you thinking at 8am. The title is taken from the novel by author Roberto Arlt. Why? Because she does not seem sure. The late Tomás Eloy Martínez, who ran the programme with her in the earliest stages, thought of the name because he wanted to use something from Arlt, something all encompassing from the lunatic fringe that most Arlt characters inhabit. They had to pay rights to the Arlt family who were divided about whether or not the name could be used. (Roberto Arlt’s daughter, Mirta, was writing a biography of her father when she died in Buenos Aires on November 12, aged 91). The necessary cash helped overcome the differences.

So how does she choose her guests?

“Most show guests come to the Channel 7 studio. And it does require many people. Every programme carries three interviews and I round off the end of the hour with an editorial of sorts, a commentary.”

She says that choosing books to interview the authors is an easy task. “It is a process of editing. So many books come in, you have to choose. You gain a trained eye, eventually. I must have learned something about what will interest the audience and what won’t. It was not easy, but it is not that difficult either. Some books, like some authors, hit you faster and harder. I read the books by people who come to the programme. I can’t just look at the dust jacket and flaps and ask a sensible question. Not honestly. It does not, well, should not, work that way. Those I do not select for an interview or even a comment I put aside. Some books come back to you. That does not happen often, you’re always pressed for time.”

Mucci, now 65, recently expanded coverage to film, theatre and arts. She ran an ambitious series of “30 years” topics in each field last year, when Argentina celebrated three decades since the restoration of constitutional rule in 1983.

Mucci studied law but never practiced. She has a daughter who is in her mid-twenties and is not on the programme. Mother Cristina first went to work for a Córdoba newspaper and in 1984 got a job at the evening newspaper La Razón at the time when publisher Jacobo Timerman was switching it from evening to morning and from broadsheet to tabloid format. She enjoyed every minute, Timerman having ordered her to write a daily arts column and, later, run the culture page every day.

“Can you imagine that? No other paper ran a page on the arts every day. The most interesting people used that page to phone in their opinions on current events. The time, the return of civilian rule, was so exciting.”

Timerman’s project collapsed and she started job-hunting. Through contacts, one being historian Félix Luna, she found an opening at Channel 13, which had been government-owned since 1975. Some time in mid-1987 — she has kept no records of those early days, and no copies of the programmes either — she went live for the first time. Her guests had to comment on everything that was happening: novelist Osvaldo Soriano, Timerman and writer Dalmiro Sáenz. Journalist and author Tomás Eloy Martínez (The Perón Novel, Saint Evita) first, and later radio journalist Carlos Ulanovsky helped her get started. But with the change of government in 1989, when Carlos Menem was elected, she was back in the street.

“I always wanted to work for the government channel, because I think a project like this has to have official support, to spread the word all over the country.” However, there were no openings and no sympathy, so she went over to cable-TV and stayed there throughout the 1990s and more, finally settling a deal with the Canal (á) cultural outlet, working as her own producer and presenter.

She went back to Channel 7 during the Fernando de la Rúa government (supported by the Channel 7 boss, author and diplomat Albino Gómez) and later got a contract with the Eduardo Duhalde interim administration. That was in 2002, but in 2004 she was back on the sidewalk. However, that last sack, with Néstor Kirchner as president, sparked a public uproar. And it was Kirchner who told Alberto Fernández to make sure the programme got back on air.

That is when she got the Saturday at 8am slot. She records on Tuesdays. “It is amazing just how many people are up at that time and watching the programme. The feedback is interesting.”

Even if not in the habit, why not try to see the Cristina Mucci books show on Channel 7 one of these Saturday mornings at 8am.

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