Say what you want about spoiled celebrities and bottom-line-oriented media congloms, they sure know how to put on a telethon. Credit NBC with mounting this ambitious event, capturing the oneness-of-the-world motif with its trio of locations, varied musical styles and a who’s who of luminaries — the celebrity equivalent of the Justice League of America rallying in response to an inexplicable tragedy.
As with the Sept. 11 concert, spec featured an all-star assortment of presenters introducing each perf, taped segments about an area ravaged by the tsunami to convey its human toll and celebs manning the phone banks. That said, the tone this time around was somewhat lighter, with Jay Leno quaintly auctioning off signed artifacts from the evening. (In another small contrast, the acts were identified onscreen, which they weren’t during the earlier fundraiser.)
Performances themselves got off to a shaky start, with Madonna’s version of “Imagine” sounding a bit like Saturday-night karaoke. Still, there were some lovely acoustic numbers before the night was over — highlighted by Annie Lennox and Elton John belting out “Why” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” respectively, both highly appropriate under the circumstances.
Having apparently learned from finger-pointing after the last event, organizers stressed that the vast majority of money raised would go directly to assisting the victims, channeled through the American Red Cross.
Hugh Grant, for one, struck just the right chord by acknowledging his own skepticism about celebrities telling people what to do, before saying he had dipped into his own famously stingy pockets. Similarly, Clint Eastwood summed up the choice in the face of such images of horror as being to “look away … or help.”
However much coin ultimately is received, the telethon represents an act of good corporate citizenship, broad-cast on NBC and all of its sister cable and broadcast networks, including Pax and Telemundo. Given that the weekend also included NBC’s Golden Globes telecast — a major promotional vehicle for the industry and mon-eymaker for the network — it’s trite but nevertheless right to laud those same parties for combining not just to do well but to do good.