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MDA Telethon Shrinking Again


The MDA Telethon will reduce its length for the second consecutive year this September, shrinking in half.

Last year, the telethon went from a 21-hour star-studded affair starring Jerry Lewis to a Lewis-less 6-hour event that didn’t even extend into Labor Day.  Lewis was originally scheduled to appear to pass the proverbial baton, but within a month of Labor Day weekend, some sort of falling out resulted in Lewis not having any role whatsoever in the annual event.

And it turns out that they raised $61.4 million in that six-hour show.  The previous year, the final full-length version, the telethon raised $58.9 million.

This year, there’ll be a new executive producer at the helm, a guy who has produced the Academy of Country Music Awards since 1999.  An MDA executive says it was time to “tell the MDA story in a new way.”

This new program is said to be a wholly prime-time affair, which suggests it will air between 8:00pm and 11:00pm on the Sunday before Labor Day.  The re-reformatting of the program is likely to save big bucks in the form of production costs, which could offset any reduction in the pledges.

It was hard for me to believe that a show that was only a little more than a third the length of the previous years’ telethons could raise more money, especially considering the fact that its longtime and beloved (if somewhat annoying) host had been unceremoniously ousted.

The real question is whether this “new way” of telling MDA’s story can do in half the time what last year’s “new way” did.

Anyone want to make a prediction?


  1.   Patrick, please forgive my long windedness, Honestly,  This is a “Jump the shark” of a  show that jumped the shark.  I believe that Lewis, kept the show as classic (some say dated but on that to each his/her own) as possible  during the 90s and 2000s despite MDA bigs wanting to retool the format as early as 1994 when they briefly renamed it “Stars Across America”. Lewis seemingly won out year after year against the bigs on how the T-thon’s format should be,   but  starting the year after  the” Illiterate F” joke, Ed Mcmahon’s death, and the 3 years of declining pledges, aqd to that the aging of Lewis affecting the shows ability to reach new donors, despite a rich history, the time was ripe to can Jerry and radically change the show. Now the The MDA really is at odds on the TV production level. its need to remake the telethon every single year, show that  whatever they are going to do is not for keeps. IMO the telethon probably may be the last that MDA will do, Telethons, despite their successes, and rich histories, in general have been succeded by online fundraising and other more effective means of soliciting funds for causes. the media consolidation of the 90s nand early 2000s, the aging/ death of Telethon emcees and typical performers, the short-tempers of the younger (so-called Gen-X and Millenial and younger)  that normally would frown on such a dated format as a telethon, and the (derogatory) influence that Lewis put on telethons in general have killed the  long telethon format. As a kid in the 80s and Early 90s I grew up watching, donating to and raising funds for Telethons of many kinds including MDA.  Marketingwise telethons have their place in the TV universe but only as  somber short-format prime time  current-events related forums where A-list celebs like George Clooney can appear.  as opposed to annual events like Lewis’s old MDA appeals which were more like a trip down memory lane to the old vaudeville era. I also question the $61 million dollar figure, I believe that that number is cooked because the show actually LOST more affiliates prior to the revamp last year, and that The MDA’s biggest sponsor the IAFF the Firefighters Union has become so much a part of the telethon that the leader of IAFF Harry Shaifberger has become sort of a co-host there I do not doubt that the $20 or so million , mainly raised through fill the boot campaigns in the week(s) leading to the broadcast, was a part of that $61M (generally sponsor donations were kept separate from the “toteboard” which counted only phone donations).  The show last year despite hopes of making the show more of a prime time affair with A-list stars and a younger appeal, the show fell short of that with only low grade B-list talent and stained with the reality of the wierd departure of Jerry by way of a tribute. there may have been more holes in last years format than what the MDA brass would like to admit   Annoying and irritating ( especially in his later years) as he was, Lewis was one powerful fundraiser IMO. Honestly the MDA should  follow others (like the Easter Seal society) and drop the Idea of a national telethon.
    Thanks for listening
    God Bless
    Roy Mustang

    1.  @craftruth2009 Thanks for the feedback, Roy.
      I’m a little more hesitant to question the figure from last year’s telethon, despite the MDA having lost some affiliates, because of the sheer drop in production cost going from 21 hours to a third of that.  In addition to the obvious production costs associated with the live show, there’s the lower pre-emption rates: most of the stations that air the telethon bill the MDA for local production (including crew overtime and lost advertising during the time the telethon is on the air); it’s too big of a loss, in this economy, for the stations to absorb, and the MDA, like all of the other telethon productions realize the unfortunate fact of life that it costs money to make money.
      The final figure may well take into account the difference in fees to the MDA affiliates, which could certainly give a boost to the bottom line.
      But I do suspect that you’re right that the telethon will eventually be a thing of the past.  Most of the A-list talent that became so synonymous with the telethon are no longer with us, and what is currently considered “A-list” either doesn’t tend to be interested in telethons, or isn’t nearly as talented by comparison.  

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.