Saturday, May 21, 2011

MDA drops telethon from Bangor, Maine, TV


A decades-long Labor Day tradition has come to an end in Eastern and Central Maine.

For the first time nearly 30 years, The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon will not be shown on TV5 this year.

It's a decision by the Muscular Dystrophy Association that comes despite TV5's attempts to save the broadcast.

And one that could change the way the community supports Jerry's Kids.

Every Labor Day weekend, for 45 years, Jerry Lewis has joined talented entertainers with families living with neuromuscular diseases to create one of the most well-known national fundraisers ever.

The telethon has spent almost 30 of those years on TV5, until now.

"There's a sense of loss. We're losing part of who we are, a part of what we've been for so, so long."

TV5 Program director Steve Hiltz says MDA officials decided to drop the Bangor broadcast as they re-worked the telethon's format.

Instead of airing the program for 21 and 1/2 hours, beginning late Sunday night into Labor Day, the MDA is streamlining the show.

Now it will be a six-hour telethon, during prime-time viewing, beginning at 6 o'clock Sunday night.

Jim Brown, MDA Vice President of Public Relations, says the decision was a matter of money.

"When we looked at the upcoming show and the six hour format and the costs and the potential income that we likely would achieve, we couldn't justify moving forward in Bangor this year."

Hiltz says the station tried to work with MDA officials to offer a format that would meet their needs. The station also significantly reduced the already deeply discounted expenses to produce the show. The goal was to save a TV5 tradition.

"We'll miss the people at the MDA. We'll miss those families. But we'll miss this connection with our viewers. We're all in this together, helping each other. That was a big deal."

"Labor Day is one day. MDA is here 365 days a year. We're here in this fight every single day. It may change on this one day, but we're here all year round and we really work hard to make sure people know that."

Pauline Cormier is the Executive Director of MDA for Maine. She admits it's not easy to let go of the Bangor broadcast.

"We have been lucky over the years to have WABI as our partner in this fight against neuromuscular disease, couldn't have asked for a better partner. Fiscally, it wasn't possible for us to continue the relationship."

The MDA telethon will still air in Portland on CBS-affiliate, WGME. Cormier says all of the families who have become synonymous with the telethon in Bangor are invited to be a part of it. And the MDA will work with them to get there, even though it'll be a two hour drive or better for many.

"I think it's about building new traditions. We don't want anyone to feel left behind. we want to build new traditions with people and find new ways to involve them in the fight, because the fight is the same."

But Hiltz is concerned the MDA could lose some of its fighters by cutting telethon ties to Eastern and Central Maine.

"They're missing the connection that they use to have and I wonder will there be those viewers that just won't respond to it because it's not there for them anymore? Are they going to feel left out as we're beginning to feel left out?"

Part 2 of this Special Report will look at what losing the MDA telethon will mean to lots of local families and local businesses who've been on the broadcast, year after year.