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September 5, 2022 8:50 am  #1


The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

It was the only thing more certain than the beginning of school the next day - the Jerry Lewis Labour Day Telethon that ran all across the U.S., raising millions for Muscular Dystrophy research. From all accounts, Lewis was a real a-hole, but for some reason, he did this one selfless thing in his life that helped somewhat soften that image.

He would end every one of them by singing "You'll Never Walk Alone," followed by the big reveal of the final amount raised. It was generally in the millions of dollars. 

It aired on stations across the country for 21 hours or more, and in Buffalo, was mostly seen on WKBW, Channel 7. (Although I think it also came up on what was then known as WGR-TV, as well.) It was pretty hard to watch this thing, but it became as much a September tradition as the closing of the CNE. It was just something that happened every single year. 

But gradually, things changed. The show was cut from a marathon to a more sedate six hours - and then just to three. Lewis was summarily dismissed from his role in 2011 under mysterious circumstances that I'm not sure were ever fully explained. 

The telethon continued for a time without him, and by 2014, the event, now dubbed "The Show Of Strength," was gone. It had been on the air in one form or another since 1954.

In 1980, my old friend, the late Clint Nickerson, was at CFTR and flew down to Las Vegas to cover the inside workings of how the telethon was put together. The resulting piece aired across the country on the syndicated "Sunday Sunday" documentary show, to my recall one of the first things ever run on that show. 

It featured interviews with Ed McMahon and guest fundraisers including Wolfman Jack. Unlike the telethon, it runs about 11 minutes, not 24 hours! 

You can hear it here. 

Not sure if anyone still does telethons anymore. The Internet is now the big cash raiser and it requires much less time, trouble, effort, and expense. Plus, no one has to stay up for 24 hours straight. But back then, the one Jerry Lewis staged every year for decades was a staple of TV. And live TV, at that. It was an amazing run. But even after all that money raised, there is still no cure or big breakthrough for MD. Which may tell you something both about the disease - and the idea of telethons themselves.  
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September 5, 2022 10:57 am  #2


Re: The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

I was in Las Vegas in the late 70's and decided to attend.

It was held at the Stardust that year so I walked down the strip and arrived at about 4 a.m.

They had a bunch of sailors in their whites handling the live audience making sure you didn't overstay your visit. You had to make a donation too if you wanted a seat. Makes sense.

Glad I went.



 


  
 

September 5, 2022 11:08 am  #3


Re: The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

I remember Global carrying it locally and using simsub to effectively delete the Buffalo signal.  It used to drive me nuts that they actually had the audacity to substitute their signal for the WGR(Z) local cut-ins.

First, they showed "commercials" in the form of promos for upcoming shows in the fall.  Kind of ruins the vibe of doing something charitable.

Second.  (and I know this plays directly into RA's rants against simsub)  I'd rather watch the Buffalo feed.

But the biggest attraction for me as a kid in the 70s was being witness to a television station being on the air at 2 or 3 in the morning when everyone else had signed off.  (I used to love geeking out staying up late at night waiting for WKBW to go off the air so I could watch WXYZ for a few minutes)

Fast forward 40-50 years and not only to almost stations run 24 hours, but I'm too old to stay up that late. 
 

 

September 5, 2022 11:17 am  #4


Re: The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

In the 1960s, Steve Allen, the veteran host/comedian, did a bizarre sketch on one of his shows, satirizing telethons.  This one was to raise money for "Prickly Heat," that scourge of the summer that leaves everyone itchy. 

It was a hilarious but very odd bit, with some of the worst talent imaginable on display. The telethon starts with the tote board and a fanfare for how much money they've raised: 76 cents!  It just gets worse from there, with the total working its way up after 25 hours on air to $1.25. Eventually, it gets up to $127.15, but at one point, the act they have on is so bad, people start calling in and cancelling their donations, and the next total is down to just $27!

(My always inaccurate memory tells me there was a separate version of this where they wound up $8.57 in the hole, because they sent out for sandwiches.)

It was a great look at how boring and stupid telethons can be. But it was a terrific bit of comedy from an old-fashioned variety show, the kind of which has completely disappeared from TV screens. 

https://i.postimg.cc/SQgZNmKv/steve.jpg

     Thread Starter
 

September 5, 2022 11:37 am  #5


Re: The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

RadioActive wrote:

It aired on stations across the country for 21 hours or more, and in Buffalo, was mostly seen on WKBW, Channel 7.

WGR/WGRZ was actually one of the original "Love Network" stations when the telethon first spread out of the NYC area in the 1960s. It only moved to WKBW for the final few years when the telethon moved to ABC nationwide. Global also ran it for a number of years. 



 

 

September 5, 2022 11:39 am  #6


Re: The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

Peter the K wrote:

I remember Global carrying it locally and using simsub to effectively delete the Buffalo signal.  It used to drive me nuts that they actually had the audacity to substitute their signal for the WGR(Z) local cut-ins.
 

To be fair, if you called WGR(Z) your pledge went to the US MDA. If you called Global it went to the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada and stayed here. 
 

 

September 5, 2022 11:41 am  #7


Re: The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

RadioActive wrote:

In the 1960s, Steve Allen, the veteran host/comedian, did a bizarre sketch on one of his shows, satirizing telethons.  This one was to raise money for "Prickly Heat," that scourge of the summer that leaves everyone itchy. 

There's also SCTV's classic spoof



 

Last edited by Hansa (September 5, 2022 11:42 am)

 

September 5, 2022 11:47 am  #8


Re: The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

Another SCTV classic to be sure.

Leave it to YouTube to actually HAVE the Steve Allen sketch there. Incredible. Not as great as my memory told me, but still worthwhile. The tote lady is a pre-Laugh-In Ruth Buzzi, the awful comic is John Byner, and the atrocious singer - who causes donations to actually go down - is Allen's wife Jayne Meadows. 

     Thread Starter
 

September 5, 2022 12:25 pm  #9


Re: The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

Funny that Steve Allen's character was named "Steve Maudlin" and SCTV's telethon was fronted by "Sammy Maudlin". Brothers? 

 

September 5, 2022 2:15 pm  #10


Re: The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

Yes and other cities held parallel telethons where they cut away to local celebrities and others.  I remember one in Vancouver where the celebrities live from the Queen Elizabeth theatre were Tige Andrews from the "Mod Squad" and John Banner --Sgt Schultz from "Hogan's Heroes."
I got to see them both live and I think I remember getting Andrews' autograph.

 

September 5, 2022 3:12 pm  #11


Re: The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

I always associated the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon with WGR 2,  and WKBW carrying the largely locally produced Variety Club Telethons in February from the Channel 7 studio(s)....  Variety Club used to refer to the various local organization clubs as "Tents".

Global used to produce / carry the Toronto version of the Variety Club Telethon from The Canadian Room at the Royal York Hotel...  And the Jerry Lewis MDA telethons were staged at The Constellation Hotel and later at The Shearaton Centre in downtown...

Global always donated the air time which the telethon "occupied" but technical crew and facilities, as well as production personnel were billed or charged back to the Telethon organization.

 

 

September 5, 2022 4:33 pm  #12


Re: The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

Perhaps the most famous moment of any of the telethons came in 1976, when this happened. If you listen closely at around the 1:30 mark, you can hear one of them - I think it's Lewis - mutter "you son of a bitch" to Frank Sinatra. 

I can't help it - the whole thing reminds me of Sammy Maudlin on SCTV.

     Thread Starter
 

September 7, 2022 9:14 pm  #13


Re: The Labour Day TV Tradition That No Longer Exists

 A fascinating follow-up to end this thread. Jerry Lewis may have a horrible man, but the charity is flailing without his presence and has been for a long time. 

No Labor Day Telethon: MDA, $23 Million in the Red, 60% Down in Contributions, Lost without Jerry Lewis

     Thread Starter