There was an absolutely brilliant story line on "30 Rock" last season, when, in an attempt to scoop other networks in the event of a pressworthy tragedy, Alec Baldwin's TV executive character comes up with a plot to pretape a benefit telethon to be aired minutes after the next fill-in-the-blank event. Naturally, hilarity ensues as Jane Krakowski's "Jenna" hosts the disaster within a disaster. It's definitely worth a watch (Season 5, Episode 12 "Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning").
With or without scripted comedic elements, the theme of using television as a tool for the "greater good" increasingly resonates in real life. Which brings us to a real-life newsworthy fundraiser: the MDA Telethon.
This year's telecast was newsworthy for two reasons: Jerry Lewis was absent from the event synonymous with his image for the first time in over 45 years -- and, this year, the usually-sprawling event devolved from 21-1/2 hours to just six. Although the Twitterverse was alive with tweets asking where Jerry was, promoters were quick to note that the short version raked in more than $61.4 million, up from last year's $58.9 million.
I'm guessing that with so many "American Idol" folks behind it, a few well-placed calls could easily have been in place to make up for any shortfall caused by Lewis' no-show. (I suspect commenters will jump in and say the show was better, Jerry was done, etc. etc., but that's not the point). It was sad to see someone who built this landmark event be so uncomfortably absent; even a promised next-day press conference from the Lewis camp never materialized. Perhaps the teams will kiss and make up in the future, but in the meantime, here's Jerry discussing his legacy with the MDA in our 2000 Archive of American Television interview.
Regardless of the unknown battles that were behind Lewis' "retirement," the lesson here is very simple: television had and still has the power and reach to be used for good. This was exemplified this weekend at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards (airing Saturday Sept.17on ReelzChannel.) The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences bestowed its Governors Award on John Walsh. Walsh is known internationally as a crime fighter, victims' advocate and the host of "America's Most Wanted" -- a program that has helped law enforcement capture more than 1,150 fugitives and brought home more than 50 missing children since its debut in 1988. The tragedy of losing his son brought the then-hotel executive into an unasked-for role, but he became a crusader for justice, using television to seek the public's help in locating the worst of the worst. (Here's John Walsh on why he decided to host "America's Most Wanted."
So, as we celebrate television's best of the best at this Sunday's 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards telecast, let's say thank you and wish a happy "retirement" to Jerry Lewis and offer congratulations to John Walsh and to the many other people in the industry who continue to harness the unprecedented power of the medium in order to make the world a better place.