Veteran Univision Host Joins Telemundo for New Variety Series

For nearly 13 years, Raul Gonzalez was Hispanic television’s answer to George Stephanopoulos -- and, perhaps more fittingly, Jimmy Fallon.

As co-host of Univision’s seminal wakeup program Despierta América, the Caracas, Venezuela-born Gonzalez developed a tremendous following, becoming a popular entertainer and host known for comedy sketches and his public struggles about his weight -- as well for his interaction with guests and his ability to balance entertainment with news on the highly rated morning show.

In February, Gonzalez announced his departure from Despierta América. At the time, he explained that he needed a break from 3:40 a.m. wakeups.

It can now be revealed that Gonzalez was also motivated by a lucrative offer to shift to Telemundo, where he’s set to develop and host a new variety series. Gonzalez will also contribute to multiple series and specials, although Telemundo remains coy about what that might involve.

Gonzalez’s first order of business: Hosting the annual Bilboard Latin Music Awards, a live telecast from the University of Miami set for April 24 at 7 p.m. ET.

“We are thrilled to have one of the top TV personalities in Spanish-language television join Telemundo’s exclusive talent roster,” Telemundo executive vice president of programming Jesus Torres Viera said. “Raul’s extensive experience in television and theater, combined with his dynamic personality and unique ability to connect with the audience, will be a great addition to our team.”

Gonzalez added that he’s “delighted” to be joining Telemundo and for the trust the NBCUniversal-owned network has shown in him.

“I am a firm believer in following your dreams and hosting a prime-time series has always been one of my major goals,” he said. “We share a passion for quality television and will bring our audience the programming they want and deserve. I look forward to working with everyone at Telemundo and NBCUniversal for years to come.”

Gonzalez began his career in children’s theater in Caracas and moved to Miami in 1994, following the election of Rafael Caldera as president and subsequent economic crisis that led to the eventual rise of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. He joined Despierta América in 2001.

Interestingly, Gonzalez has hosted Univision’s long-running Saturday evening variety show Sábado Gigante on numerous occasions. Thus, Telemundo could be quietly seeking to develop a similar program, perhaps airing head-to-head against an aging Don Francisco or on another night.

Hosting at Telemundo won’t be Gonzalez’s only new venture: According to the blog of Venezuelan television personality and celebrity chef James Tahhan, he and Gonzalez have teamed up as partners in a just-launched restaurant located just blocks away from the heart of Little Havana and Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile business district. Dubbed Sabores by Chef James, the restaurant specializes in contemporary Latin fare.