Friday, October 15, 2010

MDA says Jerry Lewis will have a role in 2011 telethon, but won't say what it will be for new, abbreviated format

From The Kats Report by John Katsilometes of the Las Vegas Sun:

Muscular Dystrophy Association officials are attempting a delicate balance in addressing the status of its famed chairman.

Give 'em credit for the attempt, at least.

But it is clear today that, while heaping praise upon Jerry Lewis (pictured) for his decades of work for the MDA, the organization has radically changed the format of the "MDA Labor Day Telethon" without consulting with the man who has hosted the national broadcast since 1966.

And the resulting decision to pack the program into a highly concentrated six hours, down from the often unwieldy 21.5 hours of years past, invariably de-emphasizes Lewis' prominence in the show.

It's less Jerry Lewis for 2011, no doubt, and we can't confidently say he'll at all be involved in next installment of the annual telethon.

"Jerry Lewis has been MDA's national chairman for more than 50 years," MDA vice president of public relations Jim Brown said today. "He's a world-class humanitarian how has done an absolutely outstanding job for the families served by the association. Jerry will be asked to play a key role in the 2011 telethon."

Will be asked. Not, has been asked. Lewis has been informed of, not consulted about, the drawdown of the show. He had nothing to do with that decision, which organizers feel will intensify interest in the program and appeal to big-name celebs who want to reach a large audience in prime time instead of the insomniacs tuning in at 3 a.m.

Also, MDA producers expect to increase the number of local TV stations across the country that carry the show. A total of 170 television stations that carried last year's 21.5-hour marathon experience; officials say that by lessening the time commitment necessary to air the telethon, more stations will take the show and, of course, boost audience numbers nationwide.

Brown said that Lewis was notified of all this by MDA President and Chief Executive Officer Gerald C. Weinberg shortly after September's broadcast that the show would be shortened to six hours of prime-time coverage. It's a move that has been discussed for "several years," says Brown, who added that the show's logistics and technical and structural format is the responsibility of the executive producers and board of directors, with input from several entities — particularly the show's sponsors.

Of course, Lewis contributes his own input — often in high modulation — but has not been the final word on the show's structure, format or length, Brown said.

There was even talk before the 2010 show that Lewis might not be involved. One entertainer who performed on the telethon told me today that word came down from a longtime MDA official months before the telethon that Lewis would not host this year. But he did, and was as energetic as ever as he opened and closed the show.

Twice today I spoke with Lewis himself. He returned a call this morning after reading my first column about this subject, which appeared in print and online this morning.

During the first call, he brusquely thanked me for writing the piece and said, "I have nothing more to discuss about the situation." He took no questions and hung up. Hours later, he called back and apologized for the hurried manner in which he ended the first call, and now we're going to share in a cup of coffee later this week. Maybe, in the spirit of the now-ditched telethon format, we'll make it a 21.5-hour coffee.

As for the MDA's future in Las Vegas, association reps they say they are eager for the show to continue to originate from South Point. It is locked in for 2011, at least. "South Point is an outstanding partner," Brown said. "We love Las Vegas. Our sponsor representatives love Las Vegas. We've been able to produce outstanding shows in Las Vegas."

That last show raised a little less than $59 million, and Lewis ended it during a sobbing rendition of, "You'll Never Walk Alone." It was a rousing performance by the 84-year-old entertainment legend. Whether it was Jerry Lewis' MDA show-closer is still uncertain.