Saturday night’s “One World: Together at Home” special will mark one of the few times in history that three top U.S. broadcast networks have joined together to air the same charity-focused entertainment special — and the first there’ve also been so many ancillary digital platforms on board, too, from Apple Music to Twitter to YouTube. The coronavirus-related cause looms large, of course. But it’s also not such a hard sell to bring huge blocks of cable networks and streaming services on board for a simulcast when the talent lineup includes Lady Gaga (who gets a “curated in collaboration with” credit), Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Elton John and dozens more.
Variety caught up again with Hugh Evans, the Australian-bred philanthropist who is the co-founder and CEO of Global Citizen, an organization that is campaigning in support of the WHO’s efforts to combat COVID-19. When we last spoke, it was about Global Citizen’s daily music live-streams, which have produced moments both modest and newsworthy (as when Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello turned up for their first extended joint performance on the spur of the moment — something fans are likely to get more of in Saturday’s more formal telecast).
(It should be noted that our latest conversation with Evans took place before the president of the United States declared that he planned to pull future funding for the World Health Organization… something that may add an extra undercurring note of urgency to Saturday’s obviously apolitical show in support of the WHO.)
A six-hour web pre-telecast show with dozens of artists will begin Saturday at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT before the two-hour special gets underway at 8 p.m. ET and PT (i.e., delayed for the west coast) on CBS, ABC, NBC and many, many other networks. For a full artist lineup and listing of the dozens of opportunities that exist to tune in, click here.
VARIETY: When the show goes out for those two hours of primetime, will everything be prerecorded or is there any live component happening in the moment?
It’s going to be all prerecorded live, but we are going to record some of it that day, because we want to make sure that it covers the beats of what’s happening in real time. Because, you know, 12 hours is a long time right now, and we need to make sure that we have the best data on how to fight COVID.
EVANS: Part of the charm of the live-streams artists have been doing for Global Citizen has been how low-tech everything is. Obviously it’s not practical to get crews to wherever artists are shooting themselves, but is there anything you can do to make Saturday night’s performances more — quote-unquote — professional?
To be really honest, we don’t want to make that more professional. We think it’s right to keep the tone as it should be, which is not about the production. I think right now everyone is understanding that people are (singing) from their homes. We are lucky in that we have just an extraordinary group of people that are coming together to be part of it, and that alone with that many broadcasters will itself be historic. But we’re not planning to dial up the production, because we want the money to go toward the cause. Because we really believe that’s what matters most.
When this was announced April 6 with the hosts and top artists and almost every network we could think of on board, it looked like something that had had months of work go into getting to that point, but we know that’s possible. How long was this in the planning stages?
Well, quite amazingly, it’s not been in the works as long as you would anticipate. In fact, when we last spoke to you (March 24), we hadn’t at all given it the green light to happen. Soon after that, we got another phone call from the United Nations’ deputy secretary general, Amina Mohammed, and also from Dr. Tedros of the WHO (World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus). Dr. Tedros had also spoken to Lady Gaga, because Lady Gaga’s mum Cynthia is a WHO official goodwill ambassador. Everyone was seeing the immense momentum of what Chris Martin and John Legend built (in starting Global Citizen’s daily music live-streams), and Lady Gaga said that she was willing to step up and help build this platform. So we all got together and we said, how can we have the biggest impact?
It’s not a fundraising telethon, right?
We don’t want to ask people for their money, because people have lost jobs, and that’s not the right thing to do right now. And so we said, okay, let’s see if corporate America — plus philanthropists, plus world leaders — will step up at this time to play a bigger role to help support the WHO’s urgent needs. And let’s also see if we can also get them to support local charities here in the U.S. that are supporting the most vulnerable people who are on the front lines with food, shelter, health care, etc. So we convened a phone call with Lady Gaga and the CEOs of many companies, and the response was instant. All of a sudden, Procter & Gamble, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, IBM, Pepsi — they all literally in the next few days all agreed to be part of it, which was phenomenal. And then NBC had signed on already, and Doug Vaughan reached out to his colleague Jack Sussman at CBS, and then they reached out to Bob Iger at ABC, and all of a sudden all the networks were on board. And then Michele Anthony from Universal and Julie Greenwald from Atlantic started reaching out to some of the big global distributors, like Tencent and Alibaba. And then Apple, Amazon, Facebook, YouTube… Having worked on these sorts of things for a long time, I’ve never seen people rally at a rate like this to achieve a common goal. It’s been so inspiring.
When you announced the show April 6, you said that $35 million had already been raised in conjunction with the show before the general public had heard a word about it, with Gaga’s help. How did that unfold?
Since I spoke to you last, that’s a great guy by the name of Declan Kelly from Teneo, who’s one of our partners. He helped convene a teleconference call with Lady Gaga, myself and the leaders of many corporations and philanthropists. It was like just a Zoom call like you and I are on all the time every day. I think Cisco teed it up with their WebEx and everyone dialed in and we just had a conversation and we said, “Listen, we want to try to pull this off, but we know we need everyone to step up if it’s going to be possible.” And you know how hard these things are to pull off so quickly. It usually takes forever. But all of a sudden they were each chipping in, and each were willing to put in major seven and sometimes eight-figure contributions towards the mission. So that’s why we’ve been able to raise close to $5 million a day since we started. And Lady Gaga has really played a leading role there. She and her manager, Bobby (Campbell), and her colleagues have literally set up a little war room. You would have seen her talk about it on Fallon. You know, I think you and I would agree that everyone wants to know what to do in this situation, but people don’t often know how to respond. And I think this has given people a rallying point, a focal opportunity to respond both globally and locally.
Is it easy to say in a nutshell what those tens of millions of dollars already raised will go toward?
It’s going to go towards providing protective personal equipment to frontline community health workers. Already the WHO has given over 2 million PPE supplies to over 120 countries, including 1.5 million diagnostic kits, and has also trained over 1 million community health workers on how to prevent Covid-19. And then also we’ve got a list of accredited charities — charities like Covenant House, like Feeding America and others, and we’re encouraging the corporations and the philanthropists to also give some of their money locally as well. Having worked on this all my life, I can say the one silver lining in such a tragic situation is that people have been so generous.
Will these contributions be celebrated on the show itself, like, “Hey, this is why we’re not asking you to give, because we’ve already taken care of this”?
Yeah, exactly. We want to tell the stories during the show of how that actually impacts real people’s lives… how that leads to protective gowns or gloves ending up in the hands of frontline community health workers. We also want to educate people about the heroic acts of bravery that people are displaying it this time. And we also want to educate people about the World Health Organization. When we spoke last, we talked about three objectives, and those tremain the same. Firstly, how do you actually end Covid? Which is all about social distancing, testing, and therapeutics and a vaccine. The second thing we’re going to focus on: What can you as an individual do locally and globally? We’ll still be encouraging people to take action, just not through their money. In the Global Citizen model that I think you’re familiar with, if you go to globalcitizen.org/Coronavirus, you can see where we still want people to take action, which is what Global Citizen does. That’s in our DNA. And then the third thing is we want to use this as an opportunity to really encourage governments to invest more in health systems, so that this doesn’t happen again. That’s all going to be highlighted through the special.
Some of the TV specials that have already been done during this crisis have gotten mixed reactions for having a mixed tone, trying to find the right balance between solemnity and sheer entertainment. Where do you see this one landing? Can people just have fun with their performances, or is this not the right occasion for that?
I think the tonality is we wanted it to be supportive of the community health workers. That’s been our guiding light. We wanted it to highlight acts of kindness. You know, it is a hard time. There are record deaths a day in the United States, and they say that there’s a real potential that in the days before the special, that’ll be when peak deaths occur in the United States, which is obviously devastating. So we’re very mindful that anything like that has to keep the focus on the mission, and has to keep the focus on the real heroes, which are the community health workers. And I think you can see that already in the way that Lady Gaga talked about it with Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel (the three late-night personalities who will be co-hosting the special).
The word “curating” was used in reference to Gaga in the initial announcement. Is she helping with the music lineup, or is the fundraising really more her thing?
Oh, no, she’s been helping with everything. She’s been helping with the curation of the lineup, helping with the music, and with the artist engagementYeah, she’s very much involved creatively. So, too, is Chris Martin. Chris, as you know, came up with the (initial live-stream) idea, very organically, and also John Legend has been involved, and Priyanka Chopra, and great industry leaders like Michele Anthony and Julie Greenwald. It’s no exaggeration that this is like one hell of a team effort. The amount of Zoom calls and WebEx calls… it goes all night.
With all the superstars you have on the show, is there anybody you’re particularly happy to have included?
That’s a good question. I’m thrilled that Burna Boy from West Africa is part of it, because I wanted to make sure that Afrobeat and the continent that’s going to be so profoundly effected by coronavirus at the moment was able to be represented. So I’m really thrilled that Burna Boy is part of it, because I wanted to make sure it was truly global.