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The Telethon: Our 21st-Century Bucket Brigade

Somewhere along the way, the celebrity telethon became our 21st-century version of a bucket brigade — the go-to media response to a disaster, natural or otherwise.

It began with Sept. 11, and has included such events as Hurricane Katrina, and now”Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together,” which NBC Universal’s networks (and a few others) pulled together and aired on Friday night.

It’s difficult to avoid questions regarding the appearance of self-promotion in these situations — NBC had Matt Lauer host, opened with “The Voice’s” Christina Aguilera belting out “Beautiful” and featured latenight host Jimmy Fallon performing a duet with Steven Tyler — but when the cause is just, such cynical thoughts are easier to banish. People need help. If having celebrities come out and sing gets them to open up their hearts and wallets, whatever the shared corporate parentage, so be it.

“You’ve probably seen a few of these telethons recently,” Jon Stewart noted, hitting just the right note, before explaining the good donations can do.

Like Aguilera, most of the performers and presenters — Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Brian Williams, Stewart — have well-known ties to the region, which added a personal touch. As for style points, it was a little jarring to hear the small audience applaud after each performance — if memory serves, past telethons, and at least the Sept. 11 one, were more somber — and some of the taped pieces felt somewhat overproduced.

Then again, in the face of such a devastating bolt from the blue, there’s hardly much call for subtlety, as Williams explicitly stated. And it was worth tuning in if only for Sting‘s acoustic rendition of “Message in a Bottle” and to hear Springsteen — an appropriate choice to close the night — crush “Land of Hope and Dreams.”

All in all, it wasn’t a bad hour, under the circumstances. And I think I can safely speak for everyone by saying let’s hope there’s not another one like it for a really long time.

 

 

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