Muscular Dystrophy Association are planning to shrink the Jerry Lewis Telethon. They want to pare it down to six hours next year from the 21-and-a-half hours the show runs now. I understand they want to run the show entirely in prime time next year as well. But then again, they were already running the show in prime time last year on Labor Day Eve.
This change comes in the wake of blistering criticism from Tom Shales, who raked this year's telethon over the coals in a Washington Post column. I happen to agree that this year's telethon was not that good a show, with Jerry missing for a good portion of it on Labor Day Monday. But reducing the show in length seems like a good way to throw away a potential $10-to-$20 million in donations.
The rationale, we're told, is that the MDA people were having trouble signing up potential affiliates to carry the entire 21-plus hours of the telecast, so they figure six hours would be an easier sell to stations. There were certain markets in the USA, and for that matter Canada, that had dropped this telethon entirely. So MDA lost a ton of dollars that could have come in from those places. They figure that if they can line up more affiliates for a six-hour show, that might end up helping MDA make more money.
I don't see how that would work, because many of their current "Love Network" affiliates already refuse to air much of the show anyway. Already, a lot of affiliates simply air a few hours of Jerry on Labor Day, and they skip the entire rest of the show on Sunday and overnight. I don't know how many affiliates are actually committed to airing the entire 21-and 1/2 hours these days to begin with -- the number seems to have dropped over the years. I don't see how this change is going to add to the number of stations carrying the telethon. Maybe the real story is that MDA finally said "Why bother" to continuing to put on the rest of the telethon, because so many affiliates had already cut back on airing all of it to begin with.
Anyway, I still don't like this news -- this is like the end of a television era. No wonder Jerry was crying, then, at the end of this year's telethon -- he probably knew what was up.