| BARCELONA, Spain, April 11
BARCELONA, Spain, April 11 Every Sunday evening
up to 4.3 million people in Spain tune into a quirky but
hard-hitting news show that has become an unlikely television
success as crisis-plagued Spaniards try to figure out how their
country got into the mess it is in.
On "Salvados", which means "Saved" in English, journalist
Jordi Evole, 38, asks experts and ordinary people disarmingly
simple questions to explain the costly bailout of Spain's banks
or the looming hole in the pension system.
The programme - with a style similar to the documentaries of
U.S. activist filmmaker Michael Moore - has grabbed an audience
share as high as 20 percent. It is the most-viewed Spanish
television show on Sundays and as high as any other news show on
any channel during the week.
Evole's informal approach - he wears a sweater with elbow
patches - and willingness to take on tough topics have resonated
in a country where a quarter of the workforce is jobless,
bankruptcies are at a record high, banks have been bailed out,
and the economy has been shrinking or stagnant for five years.
The crash - and drastic state budget cuts - followed a long
economic boom in which Spaniards got used to get-rich-quick
property investments and massive state spending on airports,
highways, culture and arts, sports and
"You know when a cartoon character runs into a wall, a big
bump appears on his head and stars spin around him. Well, we're
at that point in Spain, saying 'what the heck happened to us?'"
Evole told Reuters about the inspiration for Salvados.
The Barcelona-based show has been on the air for five years,
but its ratings took off last year as word-of-mouth spread.
Beyond the millions that watch the show on Sunday night,
many more follow Salvados on the web and on social media. Evole
has 911,000 Twitter followers who make sure the show is Spain's
top "trending" topic on Twitter every Sunday night.
Luis Fernandez, 48, who worked in public housing for 24
years and lost his job a month and a half a go, is a typical
fan. He feels Salvados both reflects his predicament and opens
his eyes on important issues.
"The situation I'm in now was unthinkable to me just five
years ago. It's a tragedy," Fernandez said. "No one gives you
information about what's really going on in Greece and Portugal,
the truth is people are scared," he said.
Many Spaniards fear Spain, which is wrestling with a high
public deficit but has so far avoided a full international
bailout, could follow Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus into
"In these times of tension, people need to know how things
really work," said Javier Ganuza, 57, who has a business that
repairs and sells electronics. He began watching the show to
keep up with his children and friends who were always discussing
Spain is a relatively young democracy and the crisis has
made people start to question all of the institutions that have
brought it stability since the end of fascist rule in the 1970s:
approval ratings have plunged for political parties, local and
national government and even the once beloved royal family.
"Spain is going through a time when citizens are really
questioning things. We are part of those people. We do the
programme to know what is going on and understand it. We ask
really basic questions because we don't understand a lot of
what's going on," Evole said.
NOT A HIT WITH THE GOVERNMENT
Evole said one of his main goals is for Spain to hang on to
its treasured social services, which are being scaled back with
The leftward slant of Salvados - which has criticised the
government's electric power, education and other policies - does
not make it popular with the centre-right government, which has
faced a wave of demonstrations against unpopular cost-cutting
"He asks false questions, he's always got the advantage,"
Education and Culture Minister Jose Ignacio Wert told Reuters of
Evole. The host has acknowledged that he edits interviews to
make his point.
Wert, an accomplished parliamentary debater, said he was
sorely tempted to test wits with Evole on the show, which he
says can be original and funny.
"Some foolish people around me in the education department
were really for me going on the show but my son, who is more
sensible, told me not even to think about it" said Wert.
Overall advertising spending in Spain continues to fall - it
now stands at half of what it was in 2008 when the crisis began
- but Salvados's popularity has brought rising revenues.
That gives the show a budget for a 30-person team and for
travel to Germany, Iceland and elsewhere to show how other
countries have dealt with banking and pension crises.
The show is a major hit for La Sexta, a channel that belongs
to Atresmedia, which in turn is controlled by
privately held Grupo Planeta. La Sexta has an average 6 percent
audience share, which triples when Salvados is on.
"He puts on this naive look and tells very dramatic, very
complex things, very simply," said Ricardo Vaca, president of
Barlovento Comunicaciones a media consulting firm that produces
audience share numbers for Spanish television.
"He's become a household name. These are issues people want
to know about," Vaca said.
(Editing by Paul Day and Peter Graff)