Networks' Disaster Relief Effort

NBC has rushed its effort to air tonight a fundraising special for disaster victims such as these New Orleans residents being rescued from their city's flood.
NBC has rushed its effort to air tonight a fundraising special for disaster victims such as these New Orleans residents being rescued from their city's flood. (By Irwin Thompson -- Associated Press)
By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, September 2, 2005

Television networks are rushing to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

But, unlike four years ago, when a rare spirit of cooperation among networks resulted in the joint production of "America: A Tribute to Heroes" for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, which was telecast live across more than three dozen networks, this time fundraising program plans are only slightly less chaotic than the relief efforts in New Orleans.

The broadcast networks plan to announce today a one-hour special to air next week. Oddly, NBC announced Wednesday that it was rushing to put its own benefit special, "A Concert for Hurricane Relief," on the air tonight at 8.

The networks had hoped to simulcast their joint effort next Tuesday, but that fell through late yesterday when they learned they probably couldn't acquire for that day the large number of phone banks needed to mount a major telethon fundraiser, according to an executive involved in the discussions. They are now shooting for a later date, probably Friday.

Like the Sept. 11 fundraiser, this special will be offered free to any network and will also be executive-produced by Joel Gallen. There was talk of having Ellen DeGeneres, who is from New Orleans, host, but as of last night the networks seemed more likely to go with a hostless format, as they did in '01. DeGeneres would be one of the special's participants.

NBC's hurricane relief concert will air tonight on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC, as well as on i, formerly known as PAX. (NBC's Telemundo network will broadcast its own one-hour special at 9 tonight.)

ABC, CBS and Fox, which spearheaded the simulcast effort, were ambushed by NBC's announcement, according to some on those networks' staffs, because the Big Four already had early talks about doing another collaborative effort like that in '01.

NBC did not notify the other networks that it was about to announce its own special, those sources said.

Trade reports on NBC's announcement cited network insiders who claimed NBC rushed its special onto the air in response to a call from Harry Connick Jr. to NBC chief Bob Wright and/or NBC Universal President Jeff Zucker, asking the network what could be done to help hurricane victims. Those reports also said that tonight was the date that worked with Connick's schedule.

Connick, a native of New Orleans, where tens of thousands of people are homeless and stranded by floodwaters, did a well-received multiple-episode guest gig on NBC's sitcom "Will & Grace" and headlined an NBC holiday special in 2003 that averaged just under 7 million viewers, but it is unclear how Connick was able to singlehandedly talk these two men into preempting the broadcast networks' collaborative fundraising effort with a separate fundraising special. An NBC rep declined to discuss it on the record for this column.

Also interesting is that not all of the NBC Universal networks are simulcasting the NBC special, which is being produced by the news division and will feature news packages, as well as performances by Connick, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Neville, and appearances by Mike Myers, Hilary Swank, Lindsay Lohan, Claire Danes, John Goodman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Eriq La Salle and Eli Manning.

NBC had much better luck getting its cable networks to simulcast its tsunami relief fundraiser concert in January. USA Network, Sci Fi and Bravo all participated in that one; they will not simulcast tonight's special.

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