Nearly three years to the day since stars banded together for “Shelter From the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast,” celebrities, sports and political figures gathered again for “Stand Up to Cancer,” to lend their time and talent to an equally important cause.
Crossing all lines including politics, networks and sometimes taste, countless celebrities and many more whose lives have been touched by cancer shed light on the progress and problems facing a cure. “Stand Up to Cancer,” an ambitious effort spanning three networks, offered viewers a chance to become informed about and donate to the war against cancer.
Hosted by the three nightly news anchors, Charles Gibson, Katie Couric and Brian Williams, the special covered many aspects of the disease, including the research being done, the accomplishments made and the road ahead before finding a cure.
The glitches were few in the predominately live special, but were rather noticeable. They included a few uncooperative mics, untimely graphics and a Kirsten Dunst hissy fit when she missed her cue. Most of the hour, however, was moving and meaningful, especially when it stayed personal. Gibson, Couric and Williams all talked of their individual experiences with the disease and many of the presenters and performers, including Patrick Swayze, Christina Applegate, Fran Drescher, Sheryl Crowe — all cancer survivors — added power with their word and their presence.
Highlights included the James Taylor and Sheryl Crowe duet of “Fire and Rain” and a heartwrenching segment about a young girl fighting a brain tumor. Live feeds from Chicago with Lance Armstrong and Elizabeth Edwards and what can only be described as the largest collection of pop divas from Radio City Music Hall went off amazingly well.
Maintaining the balance between seriousness and entertainment proved to be the big challenge here. A “30 Rock” prerecorded segment felt more like an interruption while “The Simpsons” short about a colonoscopy was a welcome break to the grave mood. Brad Garrett’s (hopefully) simulated on-stage prostate exam was rather awkward, but he did offer up a funny quip when, at a very delicate moment, he declared, “I can’t believe Fox is counter-programming against us.”
Still, the show made a point to address the taboos that afflict different segments of the population, and offered equal time to Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama to address their plans in the war against cancer if elected. It probably didn’t go unnoticed that only Obama received applause.
The special ran a little over, wrapping things up with the traditional big group song at the end, led by Melissa Etheridge. Although still an entertaining moment, this tradition has lost a bit of its emotional impact, thanks in parts to endless spoofs of such events.
While many justifiably grouse about celebrity incomes and political posturing, even the biggest cynic can’t doubt the sincerity of all involved, especially when this kind of power is used for good.