The "MDA Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon" will be celebrating its 25th anniversarywhen it kicks off Sunday at 6 p.m. on KTLA.
In 1966, the telethon for muscular dystrophy and other muscle diseases, carriedby just one station in New York, raised more than $1 million. This year it willbe broadcast by about 200 stations and is expected to top last year's total ofmore than $42 million.
For the first time, the 211/2 hour telethon will originate from Hollywood, atthe Aquarius Theater, and also will be telecast from two other new sites,Universal Studios in Hollywood and Orlando, Fla. The star-jammed benefit will beproduced by three-time Emmy award winner George Schlatter, the creator andproducer of such trend-setting TV series as "Laugh-In" and "Real People." Whileworking on the telethon, Schlatter is moonlighting as producer of the thirdannual "Hope Award" special, which will be telecast on ABC later this season.Schlatter discussed the trials and tribulations of producing the MDA telethonwith Susan King.
Have you ever produced a telethon?
It's the first one. Jerry and I have been friends for longer than either one ofus want to remember. I met Jerry when he was with (Dean) Martin many years agoat Ciro's. I used to book the shows at Ciro's. We have worked together on andoff ever since. Every time I have done a series, Jerry has done a guest shot,and when he did his series at NBC, I was at NBC.
This is (the MDA telethon's) 25th anniversary, and one of the many changes theyare making is to move the show from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.
Why the move?
It just seemed like a nice thing to try for the 25th anniversary. And so we areat the Aquarius Theater, which has just been named the Star Search Theater. It'sa bit of an adventure and a change of venue and a change of look. We are movingthe show around.
Such as where?
We are doing Bill Cosby live from the Hilton in Vegas, Alabama from theMilwaukee State Fair and Ray Charles live from the Catskills. We have Cirque du'Soleil in San Francisco and Shirley MacLaine from the Pantages.
But then we are doing appeals (in the studio and on tape) and so forth with NormCrosby, Burt Reynolds and Lou Gossett.
There are a number of acts we are bringing in which are new this year. LeezaGibbons is going to be with Jerry here. We are doing a "Kids for Kids" concertat the Forum. Casey Kasem will be there with young popular acts. We are doingthe Temptations and the Four Tops from the Greek Theatre and Frank Sinatra fromChicago. Holding it all together is Jerry Lewis.
Logistically it sounds like a nightmare.
If it works it will be amazing; if it doesn't it's a nightmare.
How long have you been preparing?
Since January. I have done a lot ("The Fourth Annual Comedy Awards," "SammyDavis Jr.'s 60th Anniversary Celebration") in the meantime.
Did you approach the talent for the show?
Some of these are old friends and some are old friends of MDA. Shirley MacLaineis one who happens to be an old friend of mine. Maureen McGovern and TonyOrlando are friends of MDA for many years. This is the first year Sammy (DavisJr.) won't be doing the show, so the show will have a big tribute to Sammy in itbecause he did the show for 25 years.
You said you have known Jerry Lewis for years. What makes him so special as aperson and as the host of the telethon?
There are some people with whom audiences relate. It's magic, and Jerry hasmagic and he had it when he was a kid working with Dean. There's talent therebut also intelligence with Jerry.
You are also producing the Hope Award the same week. You'll need a vacationafter producing those two shows.
That's what Mrs. Schlatter has been saying. Let me tell you I am having a goodtime. I am with people I enjoy, and doing things I enjoy, and saying things Ienjoy saying. I am a bit of a political activist and I feel deeply about some ofthe issues and causes involved.
We are now cutting back in every area of our society so we can afford bombersand nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines. So all of these things likemuscular dystrophy (are given less attention).
I also am doing a thing in October with Barbara Davis (wife of multimillionairebusinessman Marvin Davis) for diabetes, and Stevie Wonder will be honored. Ifeel deeply about that. As a society, we must feed our hungry people, educateour young and care for our sick people.
Would you ever like to do another series?
Like "Laugh-In" or "Real People"? My problem with the "Real People" format isthat it's been trashed so much. It's being done on "60 Minutes," "20/20" and SamDonaldson ("Prime Time Live"). What they did was to take various aspects of"Real People" and make a series out of them. "Real People" was really obsessedwith finding those people and presenting them in their natural state. Now theyare going out and inventing a lot of that stuff.
"Real People" probably changed TV and news even more than "Laugh-In" changedthings. "Laugh-In" had a ripple effect. We were the first to do a music video."Real People" had more of an impact. It came at a time when our self-esteem wasvery low. It said, "You are interesting and attractive even if you don't looklike Tom Cruise." It also was at a time when patriotism was at a low.