The MDA Telethon, an annual Labor Day event for decades and hosted by Jerry Lewis for most of its run, has been officially canceled.
The MDA Telethon is no more.
The national annual event, which premiered in 1966, actually began in the 1950s when comedian Jerry Lewis would host a “Thanksgiving Party” in New York to raise money for the fight against muscular dystrophy.
The broadcast would begin on the Sunday evening before Labor Day and wrap up 21 hours later.
Over the years, many of the A-list stars who’d been staples year after year began to die off, while the newer crop of “celebrities” never quite measured up. And with age came more unpredictability from Lewis whose antics during the live broadcast sometimes raised eyebrows.
One wondered whether people were watching because of the various talent acts or to see what Lewis might do next.
Regardless, the formula lasted until 2011, when organizers announced the 21-hour marathon would be slashed to a six-hour broadcast that year. Lewis, it was announced, would no longer host, but would appear at the end of the program to sing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the song he’d used to wrap up the show for years. But before that year’s shortened telethon happened, there was some kind of mysterious breakup between Lewis and MDA leadership, and Lewis was suddenly out altogether without any elaboration.
The 2011 show thanked Lewis, with a laughably-short tribute.
The next year, the program was retitled the “MDA Show of Strength” and was slashed again to just three hours.
And in 2013, it was cut to two hours and moved to ABC, effectively bringing to an end the “Love Network,” which had consisted of various network affiliates from city to city that had carried the program over the years. Many of the Love Network stations were ABC affiliates, but there were other affiliates that were part of it as well.
Lewis himself, now 89, told Fox News, “They do what they have to do and I respect that.” He said he was satisfied with the $2.6 billion raised over 61 years.
MDA President Steven Derks hinted they were considering more creative ways to bring in donations.
“Last summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge once again affirmed for us that today’s families, donors and sponsors are looking to us for new, creative and organic ways to support our mission,” Derks said.
It’s a shame to see it go in a way. I just hope the decision doesn’t have a negative impact on efforts to fight muscular dystrophy.