MDA Labor Day Telethon

MDA Labor Day Telethon
MDA Labor Day Telethon
MDA Telethon 2011.jpg
Also known as Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon
The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon
Presented by Jerry Lewis (1966-2010)
Nigel Lythgoe (2011-present)
Jann Carl (2011-present)
Alison Sweeney (2011-present)
Nancy O'Dell (2011-present)
Narrated by Johnny Olson (1966–1970)
Ed McMahon (1973–2008)
Shawn Parr (2009–present)
Opening theme "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin
Ending theme "You'll Never Walk Alone" by Rodgers and Hammerstein (1966-2010)
"God Bless America" by Irving Berlin (2011-present)
Country of origin United States
Language(s) English
No. of episodes 45
Production company(s) MDA (National Segments)
local stations (Local Segments)
Original channel WNEW-TV (1966–1967)
Syndication (1968–present)
Picture format National Segments:
480i (SDTV) (1966-2010)
720p/1080i (HDTV) (2011-present)
Local Segments:
Varies by Station
Original run 1966 – present
External links

The MDA Labor Day Telethon (previously known as the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon and the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon) is an annual telethon in the United States to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). The first MDA telethon was during the Thanksgiving Day weekend of 1952 and titled Party for MDA.[citation needed] It has been held annually since 1966. As of 2009, the telethon had raised $2.45 billion since its inception.[1] The telethon was hosted by actor and comedian, Jerry Lewis, from its 1966 inception until 2010.[2]

Starting in 2011, it will be seen the Sunday evening before Labor Day for six hours;[3] This edition, scheduled for syndication to approximately 160 television stations throughout the United States on Sunday, September 4, 2011,[4] will also be the first edition without Jerry Lewis as host.[5][2] Nigel Lythgoe, Jann Carl, Alison Sweeney and Nancy O'Dell, all who were originally tapped to co-host the telethon with Lewis,[6] will share hosting duties in the 2011 edition.[7]

From 1966 to 2010, the telethon was seen for up to 21½ hours, starting on the Sunday evening preceding Labor Day and continuing until late Monday afternoon. MDA calls its network of participating stations the "Love Network". The show has originated from Las Vegas for 28 of the 45 years it has aired.



Lewis began hosting telethons to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Associations of America in 1952 after a plea from a staff member who worked on Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis' editions of the Colgate Comedy Hour. The shows first originated from a variety of locations in New York City in 1954, as local telethons seen exclusively on WABD (later WNEW-TV, now WNYW). After Lewis conducted many four-hour shows in the New York area to benefit the organization, the idea of a big telethon came about. The organization (MDAA) approached Lewis to host the big event and he agreed. Organizers of the telethon chose Labor Day weekend as it was the only time available to hold the event. Many expected that the Labor Day broadcast would fail with many people out of town or away from their TVs on Labor Day weekend. Even New York City officials were skeptical that it would succeed, which made them reluctant to issue them a fund-raising permit.


Nevertheless, in 1966, the first Labor Day telethon—a nineteen-hour event held at the Americana Hotel (now the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers)—was so successful that Lewis had to paint a "1" on the 6-digit tote board when the final tote reached $1,002,114. The show repeated its success in 1967 raising $1,126,846. In 1968, after word of mouth of the success and stars appearing on the show, the "Love Network" was created when four other stations picked up the telethon – WHEC-TV in Rochester, New York, WGR-TV (now WGRZ) in Buffalo, New York, WTEV (now WLNE) in New Bedford, Massachusetts and WKBG-TV (now WLVI-TV) in Boston. However, they met some opposition from the Theater Authority, an organization that represented theatrical-related labor unions, in which their permission is required before the representing talent can perform without charge.

That year, permission was granted for talent to appear on the small telethon "network". The addition of the other stations helped raise the total to $1,401,876. While they originally intended for the entire telethon to be seen, with the obligatory local pauses for station identification, WHEC-TV chose to break in a few minutes every hour to show local volunteers in Rochester taking calls, and, as a result, WHEC-TV had higher proceeds than the other "Love Network" stations. This is how the local cutaway was born. From here on, every Telethon had cutaways and other telethon events used this formula as well. By 1970, the telethon was seen nationwide on 64 stations; that year's edition was also the first coast-to-coast telethon, when it added Los Angeles and San Francisco to its station roster. It was also the year the Theater Authority lifted its ban on nationwide telethons. Proceeds this year came to $5,093,385. The show continued to gain popularity and huge stars throughout the next two years.

Then, in 1973, with 150 "Love Network" stations in tow, the telethon moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where it originated at the Sahara Hotel. That year, Lewis explained the mission of the MDA with his comment: "God goofed, and it's up to us to correct His mistakes."[8] It was also the year the telethon broke the $10 million mark, with its final tote being $12,395,973. However, the tote board, which was operated on a solari board, only had seven digits (to just under $10 million), so Lewis repeated his 1966 stunt of painting the "1" on the left after Ed McMahon came on stage saying "I have a brush, and I have some paint...". The following year, an additional solari number flipper was added to the current seven digits, which would allow for displaying to just under $100 million.

In 1976, the "Love Network" grew to a peak of 213 stations, effectively making it America's fourth major TV network, if only for 21 1/2 hours. The 1976 telethon was also perhaps the most memorable one in the MDA's history, made memorable by the emotional reunion of Jerry and his former partner, Dean Martin, which was arranged by a frequent telethon guest, Frank Sinatra. It was the first time Martin and Lewis had seen each other since they went their separate ways 20 years earlier.


During the telethon's Las Vegas years in the 1970s and 1980s, the show originated at the Sahara until 1982 when it moved to a bigger space at Caesars Palace. The show continued there until 1989 when it originated from the Cashman Center in Las Vegas - the only time it was transmitted from a non-hotel in Las Vegas. Lewis anchored the entire broadcast—which would eventually expand to 21½ hours—from its inception until 1983, when he rested for a few hours offstage, having undergone bypass surgery the year before. In 1990, the telethon originated from the Aquarius Theater in Los Angeles, then returned to Las Vegas and the Sahara Hotel until 1995 when it moved again to Southern California, to CBS Television City for 9 years and then in 2005 to Beverly Hills. In 1998, MDA's all-star landmark show became the first to be broadcast on the Internet by RealNetworks on the association's website.

After the telethon, the site features a special highlights reel of the telethon for that year. Lewis still continued to host at least 16 hours of his telethon until 1999 (a year when he would suffer from various medical issues) when he would appear for the first five hours and the last five hours of the telecast, with an extended pre-recorded segment presented during late-night hours, and other celebrities filling in for Lewis and Ed McMahon during the morning hours. Co-hosts have included talk show host Larry King, comedians Norm Crosby, Elayne Boosler, Bob Zany, TV personalities Chad Everett, David Hartman, Casey Kasem, Jann Carl, Leeza Gibbons, John Tesh, veteran singers Tony Orlando, Julius LaRosa (who began co-hosting for Lewis in remote locations since 1975), Sammy Davis Jr., and many others.


Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon logo, used during the 2000s through 2010.

The telethon returned to Las Vegas in 2006 at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa (which was the South Coast its first year there), a complex owned by a friend of Lewis, Michael Gaughan,[9] and has remained there through the 2011 telethon. In 2009, the telethon extended its coverage to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, offering additional information and behind-the scenes material for followers of these services.[10] Beginning in 2010, viewers could also text their pledges for an automatic $10 donation, aside from texting charges. Through 2010, the national segments of the telethon were not broadcast in high definition, though some stations broadcast their local segments in HD. The 2010 edition was syndicated to approximately 190 Love Network affiliates throughout the United States.

2011 cutback, overhaul and Lewis's departure

On October 6, 2010, the MDA announced that the telethon would be trimmed back considerably, to six hours, beginning with the 2011 edition televised Sunday, September 4, 2011. This new version of the telethon, broadcast from 6 pm to 12 midnight local time, was in response to lagging donations, stations showing only part of the telethon or dropping it altogether, and the less-than-stellar talent in recent telethons—as well as Lewis, now in his mid-80s, devoting less and less time to appearing on-air due his age and health. The telethon, seen live in the Eastern Time Zone and tape-delayed in the rest of the country, has been revamped in order to attract more stations to the Love Network (which had shrunk from its peak of 213 stations in 1976 to 190 in 2010), as well as to attract more top celebrities and talent to the show, resulting in more viewers and donations. The other aspects of the telethon, such as corporate donations, stories from those who relied on the MDA's help, and local segments, remained,[3][11] though local segments were restricted to two 7 to 8-minute segments every hour.[4] As of June 2011, stars confirmed for the first short-form version included Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride,and Darius Rucker, in pre-taped segments from the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.[6] Other celebrities slated to appear included the judges of American Idol (Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, and Randy Jackson), Celine Dion, Jon Secada, Tommy Emmanuel, Richie Sambora, Jimmy Webb, Michael Feinstein, Maureen McGovern, Jordin Sparks and Greyson Chance.[12] The 2011 edition originated from its current home, the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas.[4] The 2011 version was also the first version to broadcast the national segments in high definition; the broadcast of local segments in HD remained optional for the station.

On May 16, 2011, it was first announced by the MDA that the 2011 version of the telethon would be Lewis' last as host, and that he would continue his role as MDA's National Chairman,[5] still appearing at the close of each telethon, to sing his signature closing song, You'll Never Walk Alone.[13] In a press conference with the Television Critics Association in late July 2011, Lewis denied that he ever said it would be his last telethon, would not elaborate on his role in the current telethon (stating that it was "none of your business"), and announced he would indicate his future plans the day after the telethon broadcast, citing "I will have plenty to say about what I think is important."[14][7] At the same conference, Lewis criticized the reality television shows his telethon co-hosts were involved in -- Lythgoe's American Idol, which Lewis said featured contestants who were "McDonald's Wipeouts"; and Sweeney's The Biggest Loser, a series which Lewis claims is about contestants "knocking their brains out trying to see how we beat the fat lady at 375 pounds, and in four months she's going to be 240. Who cares? It's ridiculous."[15]

The MDA announced on August 3, 2011, that Lewis had "completed his run" as both host and national chairman, effective immediately, and that Lewis would not appear in the 2011 telethon.[2] The wording of the release left it ambiguous whether he had been fired or if he had resigned. The MDA also confirmed that Lythgoe, O'Dell, Sweeney, and Carl, all slated to be co-hosts under Lewis, would share hosting duties; the MDA will leave the position of national chairman unfilled.[7] Numerous celebrities came out in support of Lewis and opposed to his dismissal from the MDA shortly after it was announced;[16] Lewis himself has been mostly silent about the issue, saying that the controversy is "very difficult to get into."[17] On August 21, 2011, the Las Vegas Review-Journal released a report stating that the MDA reinstated Lewis as host of the telethon;[17] however, Lewis's publicist denied that report.[18] The following day, on August 22, 2011, the Review-Journal retracted the report, saying that Lewis has not been invited back to the telethon; the source close to Lewis said that the MDA reconciled with Lewis, not reinstated Lewis.[19][20]

In addition, admission to the telethon by the general public was severely restricted, due to the cut in the length of the telethon, and the cut in the length of the local segments; in previous years, the telethon used the local segment time to swap audiences. Most of the attending audience members were representatives for sponsors and major donors.[21]

Despite Jerry's departure and anything that took place backstage, the 2011 telethon's hosts paid tribute to Lewis with a one minute video montage of Jerry hosting the telethon over the years.[22] During the presentation, the hosts said that Lewis "retired" from his position as host.[23]

Following the telethon, Lythgoe commented that he was sorry that Lewis did not take part, but the show had to move on to ensure its survival, but has said that he is welcome to make an appearance on the telethon anytime, saying that the annual event was "his baby." Lythgoe also said that the orchestra had contingency plans in place in the event Jerry did show up, either live or pre-recorded, to sing his signature song, "You'll Never Walk Alone", but never showed up at the venue. Lewis' publicist Candy Cazau would not comment to the Associated Press about contingency plans, but has said earlier that Lewis did not agree to make any appearances on the show, following the debacle that led to his removal.[23]

While the 2011 edition of the telethon originated at the South Point, it is unknown if future editions will take place there, or anywhere in Las Vegas.[9]

Ed McMahon

Ed McMahon was Lewis' long-time co-host. McMahon was involved with the telethon beginning in 1967 and co-hosted the show with Jerry from 1973 to 2008.[24] Similar to his regular position as co-host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, McMahon was Lewis' co-host, announcing the intros and outros of each segment, welcoming corporate and charitable sponsors with their donations, and of course, calling for a roll of a timpani drum for each million dollar mark passed on the tote board (Carson himself, a longtime friend of Lewis, surprised viewers by opening the 1970 telethon with a Tonight Show-style monologue while Lewis stood backstage -- a role that Carson would repeat from 1971 until the telethon moved to Las Vegas in 1973).[citation needed] McMahon, borrowing from Carson's prognosticating character, "Karnak the Magnificant," also made predictions on what the final total of funds raised would be -- a practice he abandoned after the 1982 telethon raised $2 million less than the previous year (which Lewis attributed to the severe 1980-82 recession that had gripped the U.S.).[citation needed] The trend of taking a break during the telethon was started in 1985 by Ed. As with Lewis, McMahon would also appear only when Lewis appears, with his duties as co-host filled in by others. McMahon died June 23, 2009.[25] The 2009 edition of the telethon paid tribute to McMahon with a special video tribute narrated by Lewis, which played during the first hour of the show.[10] Following the tribute, Lewis introduced McMahon's wife, Pamela, who was in the audience. During the telethon for that year, Jann Carl assumed Ed's duties during Jerry's hours on-air, while announcer and KKGO (Los Angeles) deejay Shawn Parr billboarded the start and end of each segment.


Previously, the telethon ran live for 21½ hours, ending at 6:30 p.m. ET. During the 2000s, the telethon would end its national portion shortly before 6 p.m. ET, with any remaining time going to stations. In recent years, more "Love Network" stations over the years have opted not to show the entire telethon, opting to join the show in progress after the 11 pm / 10 pm local news, or even on Labor Day morning, after the network morning shows.

In 2010, the last year of the full-length telethon, the telethon ran live for 20½ hours, from 9 p.m. ET to 5:30 p.m. ET, though actual start and end times varied by station. However, the MDA still considered 21½ hours as the official length of the telethon, turning over the final hour, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET to its affiliate stations for local wrap-ups (some stations would elect to end at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. ET instead (or even later), depending on the option of the station).[26]

Effective September 4, 2011, the telethon was shortened to six hours, and broadcast from 6 p.m. to 12 midnight local time in each time zone, with stations in the Eastern and Atlantic Time Zones broadcasting the event live.[3] However, as with the previous format, some stations scheduled the telethon as they saw fit -- in the case of Chicago's WGN-TV, the 2011 telethon was scheduled from 6PM to 1AM ET (5PM to 12 Midnight CT),[27] with the first hour produced locally.[28] In addition, some network affiliates would delay the telethon to start later than 6PM, so that their evening newscasts and some of their network shows, such as CBS's 60 Minutes, would be seen as normally scheduled.[29]

Conflicts with sports

Some stations broke from the coverage during the afternoon to show sports, such as CBS' coverage of the US Open, and subsequently beginning in 2007 NBC Sports covering the Deutsche Bank Championship. One such station is WGN-TV, which, since the 1970s, pre-empted the afternoon segment of the telethon for Chicago Cubs or Chicago White Sox baseball (except for the 1994 telethon, due to the baseball strike); incidentally, WGN-TV simulcasts the telethon (including the local telethon segments featuring WGN-TV personalities) nationally via its WGN America superstation feed.

In another case, some used a sister station affiliated with either The CW, MyNetworkTV or an independent to show the telethon start, and/or air the station's network programming while the telethon station continues to air the telethon; this was the case with CBS affiliate WDJT in Milwaukee and its independent sister station WMLW-CA, which in 2007 aired the first four hours of the telethon during CBS prime time, then aired U.S. Open coverage on Labor Day to allow WDJT to carry the telethon. In Pittsburgh, WPXI carried the telethon, while sending NBC's coverage of the Deutsche Bank Championship golf tournament to independent station WBGN-LP.[30]

While the 2011 reformat resolves sports conflicts on Labor Day, the telethon was still subject to delays the night before in some areas. On September 4, 2011, right before 6PM, the Baltimore Grand Prix was scheduled on ABC, Deutsche Bank Championship golf on NBC, and U.S. Open tennis on CBS. WGN carried a Pirates-Cubs game that was scheduled to end before 5:30PM ET, though it could have run over if extra innings, long innings or rain delays were involved.[27]

Markets with no Love Network affiliate

In some markets, no local station carries the telethon for various reasons. In some cases, the MDA would refuse to renew a contract with a station, leaving a market with no Love Network affiliate, if another station is not found in time. During the last year of the old telethon format, 2010, one example was KAME-TV in Reno, Nevada, which was dropped by the MDA that year, due to economic conditions and a decrease in pledges.[31] Other notable markets with no Love Network affiliate in 2010 included Dothan, Alabama; Sioux City, Iowa; Yuma, Arizona; Bakersfield, California; Augusta, Georgia; Rockford, Illinois; Tupelo, Mississippi; Lincoln, Nebraska; Greensboro, Greenville and Wilmington, North Carolina; and the Tennessee Tri-Cities.[32] Viewers in these markets could watch the telethon on WGN America or a station in a neighboring market, as well as online from MDA's site. In some areas, satellite and online are the only ways to view the telethon, as WGN America is not seen in all areas, and many cable systems carry only channels within their own market.

Affiliate changes for the 2011 reformat

While the new telethon format in 2011 was designed to attract new stations and markets into the Love Network fold, the MDA still found itself dropping some stations, resulting in a net shrinkage of the network to just over 150 stations -- its smallest size since 1973. In May 2011, the MDA dropped WABI-TV in Bangor, Maine from the Love Network after 30 years, citing potential economic costs resulting from the new format.[33] The move will leave WGME-TV in Portland as the only Love Network affiliate for the state of Maine,[33] which is not available on Time Warner Cable in most parts of the Bangor market.[34] In addition to Bangor, stations in Mobile, Alabama / Pensacola, Florida; Santa Barbara, California; Panama City, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; Terre Haute, Indiana; Alpena and Traverse City, Michigan; Austin, Minnesota; Cape Girardeau, Missouri / Paducah, Kentucky; St. Louis, Missouri; Utica, New York; San Angelo, Texas; Bluefield, Clarksburg and Wheeling, West Virginia; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and the entire states of Mississippi, North Dakota, and Vermont were also dropped from the Love Network fold, with no replacement. This is in addition to markets that did not carry the telethon in 2010, in which no stations were added in these areas in 2011.[35]

The new format had also led to the telethon being moved to other stations, due to scheduling conflicts -- longtime Love Network station KXAS-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas announced that they would no longer carry the telethon, due to the station being an NBC owned and operated station, and the fact that the telethon would be pre-empting NBC's Sunday night schedule.[13] KTXA will be picking up the telethon and will use KTVT personalities for local segments.[36][13]

Other new Love Network affiliate changes include WITI replacing WDJT-TV in Milwaukee (thus returning to its original station that had aired the event); WNCF replacing WAKA in Montgomery, Alabama; KOCB replacing KWTV in Oklahoma City; KICU-TV replacing KTVU in San Francisco; KZJO replacing KCPQ in Seattle, Washington; KXMN-LP replacing KSKN in Spokane, Washington; WNYF-CD replacing WWNY-TV in Watertown, New York; and KXXV replacing KWTX-TV in Waco, Texas (KBTX-TV in Bryan, however, still carried the telethon).[35]

Theme songs

  • The telethon's toteboard theme song is an instrumental version of Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now Is Love" (1965). It was used from 1970 through 1989 in different arrangements. At the show's 25th anniversary in 1990, it was not used, but returned for the 1991 edition. In 1992, the song was replaced by various orchestral fanfares to give the show a fresh effect, but it returned in 1996 at Lewis' request. The 2008 and 2009 versions used the song only for the final tote while a generic fanfare marked the others; the 2010 edition used a generic fanfare for all totes, including the final tote, with "What The World Needs Now Is Love" relegated to a medley of songs that played during the closing credits.
  • The song Jerry Lewis perennially sings to conclude the event, "You'll Never Walk Alone," was originally written for the 1945 Broadway musical play, Carousel by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Lewis has given conflicting accounts on the air as to the origin of his use of the song. According to his account at the end of the 2007 telethon, the song was suggested to him in 1964 by a disabled child, walking with a cane; it was suggested to Jerry as a song that would specifically represent physically disabled children. In the 2010 broadcast, however, Lewis mentioned that he knew the song by heart, and was singing it that year for the "59th time", which would mean he had been singing it annually since he began hosting MDA telethons in 1952. Also, a recording of Lewis singing the song for a poster child was released as a cardboard record in 1959;[37] that year, Rodgers and Hammerstein gave the MDA permission to use the song as the official theme for the organisation.[8] When Lewis was removed as telethon host in 2011, the song was retired and the closing theme was changed to "God Bless America", a patriotic standard written by Irving Berlin.


Through the 1980s, there were also Canadian "Love Network" affiliates, whose telethon presentations there benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada (MDC), an organization unrelated to the American MDA, but used Lewis's US telethon for fund raising. The telethon also helped launch a new station—in Winnipeg, CKND-TV's first program on August 31, 1975 was the MDA telethon.[38]

The final Canadian-based local broadcasts of the telethon aired from Ottawa in 2001. After this, MDC officials canceled the local broadcasts claiming cost savings. The Ottawa broadcasts were first hosted by CFRA radio's Ken Grant, who expressed concern that there would be fewer donations due to the loss of local broadcast features. Ottawa's telethon broadcasts were conducted for 31 years, most of which originated from the Skyline Hotel (later known as the Citadel Inn).[39]

Today, no Canadian station airs the telethon, though it is available on cable and satellite from WGN-TV, as well as from border US stations, such as WMYD in Detroit/Windsor. As of 2011, Muscular Dystrophy Canada continued to operate pledge call centers during the telethon to collect Canadian donations.[40]

Through 2010, the corporate donation segments of the telethon occasionally mentioned their Canadian donors, and WGN's telethon included a number for Canadians to call to make a pledge, 1-800-567-CURE, which connects to the pledge center in Toronto.[40] In 2010, WGN's telecast also included a texting address for Canadian viewers to text in their pledges to MDC for an automatic $10 donation, aside from texting charges; this coincided with the MDA's launch of their own text-to-pledge service. Most border stations would also show either the local pledge number for the Canadian portion of their viewing area (as WMYD did), or the national Canadian number.

When the MDA reformatted the telethon in 2011, it no longer allowed its border Love Network affiliates to display any pledge numbers for Canadian viewers. However, the MDC still had a pledge line open, but only on Labour Day itself, with the MDC relying on other ways to get the message out.[41]

A French-language telethon for MDA Canada was televised in Quebec concurrently with the American show[citation needed] in the late-1980s on the Radio-Québec network (now Télé-Québec); first televised in 1987, this telethon was hosted by entertainer Michel Louvain.[42]

Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, WKAQ-TV presents their own local telethon for MDA, Sentimiento Telemaratón, generally broadcast the first Sunday after Labor Day, usually from 11am to 9pm AST.[43] As with the English version, the telethon features local and international celebrities, plus information on the organisation, the diseases and the people that rely on MDA's help.[44] While WKAQ does not show the Labor Day telethon, it is considered by the MDA as part of the Love Network.[32]

Hurricanes and other shortfalls

Telethon tote board pledges for 2004 were down nearly 2%, to $59,398,915 (from $60,505,234 in 2003). Hurricane Frances had struck through most of the Florida peninsula late on September 5, during the telethon, significantly reducing pledges from the southeast United States. As many Florida stations devoted their air-time to coverage of Hurricane Frances, most Love Network stations in Florida cancelled the local segments of the telethon and either showed only parts of the telethon, moved the telethon to a digital subchannel, or did not show the telethon at all. On a Saturday afternoon in early December 2004, some Florida Love Network stations showed a special three-hour telethon, as a way to recoup some of the lost pledges.[citation needed] Telethon pledges were down another 7.5%, to $54,921,586 in 2005 due to significant Hurricane Katrina disaster relief efforts in New Orleans and throughout the region. That year, Jerry and his guests urged telethon viewers to also give donations to The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.

The MDA itself donated $1 million to the Salvation Army for hurricane relief efforts. Prior to the hurricane-affected results of 2004 and 2005, the only other time the telethon raised less than the previous year was in 1982 ($28,400,000), during the recession of the early 1980s.[citation needed] One source said, however, that it was due to Jerry sitting out most of the telethon, due to his heart attack earlier (even though the heart attack did not occur until December of that year).[45] However the next year - 1983, the Telethon succeeded again in raising more money than its previous year and by 1984 was back to its record breaking pace. In 2006, the final tote board tally was $61,013,855 as 5 major regional stations knocked out during previous telecast came back online. It was the first time since 2003 that the telethon raised more money than the previous year. In 2007, the telethon again raised more than any previous year, closing the show with tote board pledges totaling $63,759,478.

On Labor Day in 2008 (September 1, 2008), Hurricane Gustav struck the coast of Louisiana. Some Love Network affiliates in the affected area cancelled the telethon for safety and informational purposes. Meanwhile, in New Orleans, the local telethon segments on WNOL-TV were also postponed, with WGNO, the local producer (as well as WNOL's co-owner) urging those wanting to give to do so through "the national telethon".[46] Nationally, Jerry Lewis mentioned Hurricane Gustav and wished those in the affected area, especially his "kids", luck.

Neither he nor his guests made pleas for donations to The Salvation Army, contrary to a press release that said he would,[47] although guest host Tom Bergeron did make a plea for donations to the Salvation Army during his hosting stint on the morning of September 1, as Gustav made landfall. However, with less than 10 minutes remaining in the 2008 telethon, the tote board update reflected an increase from the 2007 total, racking up $65,031,393 in donations, exceeding 2007's tote. Lewis had spoken about his concern at not making his goal of "one dollar more" due to economic conditions and Hurricane Gustav. When the tote board updated to show they'd gotten over 2007's total, he screamed three times, "I got it!" On Labor Day 2009 (September 7, 2009), the telethon only raised $60,481,231 in pledges, more than 2005, but lower than the final 2003 results. Lewis mentioned that the effects of the downfall of the American economy may have played a role in that year's shortfall, but was still amazed by the amount amassed nevertheless.[26] In addition, no hurricanes threatened the United States around Labor Day weekend that year.

The 2010 telethon saw a further reduction by several million dollars. The final tote was $58,919,838. Lewis noted, "I'm heartened by the unique ability of Americans to help others in need, when they themselves are likely struggling financially."[48]

Tote board

  • The telethon's toteboards varied from year to year; in the 1970s it was operated on a Solari-board, consisting of seven (later eight) number flippers using a white background and black numbers. Instead of using blank numbers, all flippers began with zeros. This tote board was discontinued after 1989 and replaced with a new tote board, first operated with the "eggcrate" display common on game shows, then later to an LCD-type "vane" display. By 2003, the tote board was changed to a screen display. The 2011 edition was the first not to use a tote board at all during the national segments, due to the show airing live only on most stations in Eastern Time, and on a tape delay in other time zones and on some Eastern Time stations.
  • Elgin Watches was the sponsor of the telethon's toteboard as the "Official Timekeeper of the Telethon" in the late-1960s and early-1970s, at least during the telethon's New York years.[49] From the mid-1970s to the early-1980s, Helbros was the toteboard sponsor. Since the early-1980s, the tote board had no dedicated sponsor, though some local stations continued to have a sponsor for their local tote boards.

Figures are from the final tote board number at the end of each telethon. For years 1967 on, increase or decrease is given compared to the previous year and to the previous record. As of 2011, the telethon has broken its previous record every year except 1982, 1983, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2011; 1983 and 2011's telethons improved over the previous year's totals without breaking the all-time record.

Through 2010, the final totes did not take into account any pledges that are made after the final tote is announced live—many stations would continue with their local segments afterward, with some stations delaying the final national tote until the very end of the telethon. As the 2011 telethon was not live and could not keep a running national tote during the show, the final national tote for that year was not announced until the following day.

MDA Telethon Final Tote Board Numbers
Year Amount Change From Record Notes Source
1959 $575,208 [50][unreliable source?]
1966 $1,002,114 First modern telethon [50]
1967 $1,126,846 +12.45% +12.45% [citation needed]
1968 $1,401,876 +24.41% +24.41% First year of the Love Network [citation needed]
1969 $2,039,139 +45.46% +45.46% [50][51][unreliable source?]
1970 $5,093,385 +149.78% +149.78% Love Network enters Los Angeles, San Francisco [50][51]
1971 $8,125,387 +59.53% +59.53% [50]
1972 $9,200,754 +13.23% +13.23% [citation needed]
1973 $12,395,973 +34.73% +34.73% First telethon to originate from Las Vegas [50][51]
1974 $16,129,213 +30.12% +30.12% [50]
1975 $18,868,499 +16.98% +16.98% [50][51]
1976 $21,723,813 +15.13% +15.13% Jerry Lewis reunites with Dean Martin [51]
1977 $26,841,490 +23.56% +23.56% $26,841,419[50] or 490[51]
1978 $29,074,405 +8.32% +8.32% [50][51]
1979 $30,691,627 +5.56% +5.56% [51]
1980 $31,103,787 +1.34% +1.34% [52][unreliable source?]
1981 $31,498,772 +1.27% +1.27% [citation needed]
1982 $28,415,339 -9.79% -9.79% Recession [citation needed]
1983 $30,691,627 +8.01% -2.56% [52]
1984 $32,074,566 +4.51% +1.83% [52]
1985 $33,181,652 +3.45% +3.45% [citation needed]
1986 $34,096,773 +2.76% +2.76% [52]
1987 $39,021,723 +14.44% +14.44% [52]
1988 $41,132,113 +5.41% +5.41% [52]
1989 $42,737,219 +3.90% +3.90% [50][52]
1990 $44,172,186 +3.36% +3.36% Telethon moves to Los Angeles [52]
1991 $45,071,657 +2.04% +2.04% Return to Las Vegas [52]
1992 $45,759,368 +1.53% +1.53% [52]
1993 $46,014,922 +0.56% +0.56% [52]
1994 $47,105,396 +2.37% +2.37% [citation needed]
1995 $47,827,221 +1.53% +1.53% Return to Los Angeles [citation needed]
1996 $49,146,555 +2.76% +2.76% [citation needed]
1997 $50,475,055 +2.70% +2.70% [citation needed]
1998 $51,577,023 +2.18% +2.18% [50]
1999 $53,116,417 +2.98% +2.98% [citation needed]
2000 $54,610,289 +2.81% +2.81% [citation needed]
2001 $56,780,603 +3.97% +3.97% [citation needed]
2002 $58,276,118 +2.63% +2.63% [50]
2003 $60,505,234 +3.83% +3.83% [50]
2004 $59,398,915 -1.83% -1.83% Florida Hurricanes [citation needed]
2005 $54,921,586 -7.54% -9.23% Hurricane Katrina [50]
2006 $61,013,855 +11.09% +0.84% Return to Las Vegas [50]
2007 $63,759,478 +4.50% +4.50% [citation needed]
2008 $65,031,393 +1.99% +1.99% [citation needed]
2009 $60,481,231 -7.52% -7.52% Ed McMahon's death; recession [26]
2010 $58,919,838 -2.58% -9.40% Final long-form telethon (21.5 hours); Lewis' final telethon as host [48]
2011 $61,491,393 +4.36% -5.44% First short-form telethon (6 hours); delayed broadcast by time zone [53]


The MDA and Jerry Lewis have been criticized by disability rights activists for their tendency to paint disabled people as, "pitiable victims who want and need nothing more than a big charity to take care of or cure them."[54] Critics argue that focusing the public's attention on medical cures to "normalize" disabled people fails to address issues like providing accessible buildings, transportation, employment opportunities and other civil rights for the disabled.[55]


  • Don Francisco, the host of Sábado Gigante, is MDA's spokesperson on behalf of Hispanics with neuromuscular diseases—he generally appears in the telethon in a pre-recorded message, appealing to Hispanics in Spanish to donate. Don Francisco is also known in his native Chile as host of that country's Teletón, for handicapped children.
  • Game show announcer, Johnny Olson was the telethon's announcer for the first five years, from 1966 to 1970 before Ed McMahon took over the role and held it until his death in 2009.
  • 7 Up was the telethon's first corporate sponsor, in which they would raise money through special promotions and issue checks in installments to Jerry during the course of the telethon. 7 Up is also the longest corporate sponsor (under current owner Dr Pepper Snapple Group), supporting the telethon since 1974. Prior to that year, sponsorship was generally limited to trade unions and civic organizations—the most durable being the International Association of Fire Fighters, who supported the MDA since 1954, and appeared on the telethon since 1966.
  • Another notable sponsor was 7-Eleven, who was a sponsor from 1976 to the early-2000s. Early on, Jerry Lewis would appear in commercials urging 7-Eleven shoppers to "Keep The Change" for his Kids.[56] During the late-1970s and early-1980s, Jerry also appeared in commercials for 7-Eleven, promoting its stores and products.
  • In 1980, a strike by AFTRA and SAG prevented many guest stars from performing. Instead, they simply walked onstage, shook hands with Lewis, handed him a personal check, and encouraged viewers to make a donation.
  • Jerry was also the host of the first edition of the French Téléthon in 1987, which benefits the muscular dystrophy charity in France, L'Association française contre les myopathies. Jerry also co-hosted the 1991 edition. The French MD telethon is generally televised on France 2 on the first weekend in December, with the 2007 edition taking in €96,228,136 (US$141,089,693) in pledges, down from its 2006 total of €101,472,581 (US$136,389,286). (The value in US dollars against Euros are as of the telethon's broadcast for that particular year.)
  • Today, of the charter affiliates of the "Love Network", WHEC-TV and the present-day WGRZ and WLNE-TV still carry the telethon. WLNE's carriage was not continuous, however, as WPRI-TV carried the program for some years until WLNE picked up the telethon again in 1994.[57]
    • What is now WLVI-TV (the former WKBG) has since dropped the event, which has since moved to WCVB-TV.
    • Today's WNYW (the former WNEW) dropped the telethon after 1986, which moved to WWOR-TV in 1987. Ironically, both WNYW and WWOR are now under the common ownership of the Fox Television Stations Group.


  1. ^ "Jerry Lewis is still going the distance",,0,794457.story, Los Angeles Times, September 3, 2010, accessed September 3, 2010
  2. ^ a b c MDA: "Jerry Lewis Completes Run as MDA National Chairman", August 3, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c MDA: "MDA Labor Day Telethon Moves to Shorter Format", October 6, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c MDA: "MDA Labor Day Telethon 2011: Short, Snappy, Sensational!", July 1, 2011.
  5. ^ a b MDA press release, via Zap2it: "You’ll Never Walk Alone: Jerry Lewis To Make His Final Telethon Appearance", May 16, 2011.
  6. ^ a b MDA press release: "Top Country Music Acts Tape Grand Ole Opry Performances for MDA Labor Day Telethon", June 10, 2011.
  7. ^ a b c Zap2it: "Jerry Lewis out as MDA National Chairman", August 4, 2011.
  8. ^ a b Baltimore Sun: "What we'll miss about the Jerry Lewis telethon", August 4, 2011.
  9. ^ a b Las Vegas Sun: "In two swift paragraphs, Jerry Lewis’ run as MDA chairman and telethon host ends", August 3, 2011.
  10. ^ a b MDA: "Still Going Strong: 44th Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon Airs This Labor Day Weekend", 8/27/2009.
  11. ^ Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale): "Jerry Lewis telethon cut to 6 hours", October 6, 2010.
  12. ^ Clarke, Norm (August 20, 2011). Dion, Lopez offer talent for telethon. Las Vegas Review Journal. Retrieved August 21, 2011.
  13. ^ a b c Ed Bark: "NBC5 (KXAS-TV) will be no-show for this year's notably shortened MDA telethon", June 20, 2011.
  14. ^ Jerry Lewis tight-lipped on telethon role. Reuters. Retrieved July 31, 2011.
  15. ^ St. Petersburg Times: "Jerry Lewis out as telethon host", page 1A, August 5, 2011.
  16. ^ Kerby, Rob (August 6, 2011). Irked comedians, Forbes magazine agree Jerry Lewis deserves better. BeliefNet. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  17. ^ a b Clarke, Norm (August 21, 2011). MDA telethon reinstates Lewis. Las Vegas Review Journal. Retrieved August 21, 2011.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Fox News: "Despite Reports to the Contrary, Jerry Lewis Will Not Return as MDA Telethon Host", August 22, 2011.
  20. ^ Leach, Robin (September 1, 2011). Mystery surrounds Jerry Lewis’ absence from Sunday’s MDA Telethon. Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  21. ^ Las Vegas Review-Journal "Public discouraged from attending MDA telethon", September 4, 2011.
  22. ^ Orlando Sentinel: "MDA Telethon raises $61 million in 6 hours; did you miss Jerry Lewis?", September 5, 2011.
  23. ^ a b America's Review: "Lythgoe: Lewis welcome on MDA telethon anytime", September 5, 2011.
  24. ^ MDA Press Release: "Longtime MDA Telethon Anchor Ed McMahon Dies", 6/23/2009.
  25. ^ CNN: "Ed McMahon dies at 86", 6/23/2009.
  26. ^ a b c MDA: "Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon Achieves $60.5 Million", 9/7/2009.
  27. ^ a b Per TV schedule at for September 4, 2011.
  28. ^ Chicago Sun Times: "Without Jerry Lewis, MDA telethon promises to be bland affair", September 2, 2011.
  29. ^ Per TV schedule at for September 4, 2011; zip code 46805. In this case, WANE-TV Fort Wayne, Indiana showed the telethon from 8PM to 2AM ET, to make room for local news and 60 Minutes.
  30. ^ Owen, Rob (August 31, 2007). "WPXI gears up for telethon; WTAE debuts new set". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2007-09-04. 
  31. ^ Reno Gazette-Journal: "Reno loses telethon TV feed", September 4, 2010.
  32. ^ a b MDA: Telethon affiliate list
  33. ^ a b WABI: "MDA Telethon Dropped on TV5 - Part 1", May 18, 2011.
  34. ^ Per; zip code 04401.
  36. ^ CBS DFW: "CBS 11 / TXA 21 at MDA Summer Camp Before Annual Telethon", June 24, 2011.
  37. ^ WFMU's Internet Museum of Flexi / Cardboard / Oddity Records: "Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Fundraiser" record
  38. ^ Dulmage, Bill (January 2007). "Television Station History: CKND". Canadian Communications Foundation. Retrieved 2007-09-02. 
  39. ^ "Ottawa dropped from Lewis telethon: End of 31-year Labor Day tradition marks change in format, 'better use of funds'". Ottawa Citizen. 23 August 2002. p. F1. 
  40. ^ a b "42nd Annual Jerry Lewis Labour Day Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy Canada (MDC)". Muscular Dystrophy Canada. 13 August 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-09-02. 
  41. ^ Muscular Dystrophy Canada: "46th Annual Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy Canada"
  42. ^ Télé-Québec: Histoire (French)
  43. ^ From TV listings at
  44. ^ MDA Puerto Rico: Sentimiento Telemaratón page (Spanish)
  45. ^ "The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste", by Jane and Michael Stern (New York, Harpercollins, 1990)
  46. ^ WGNO: "Jerry Lewis Local Telethon Postponned (sic) Due to Gustav", 8/29/2008
  47. ^ KPRC: "Jerry Lewis Calls For Gustav Help", 8/31/2008
  48. ^ a b NPR: "Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon Raises $58.9 Million", 9/6/2010
  49. ^ Radical Software, Vol. 2 Issue 2 (1973)
  50. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p (2009-11-19). "Jerry Lewis MDA". Jerry Lewis Unauthorized Home Page. Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. Retrieved 2010-03-06. [unreliable source?]
  51. ^ a b c d e f g h "How it all began? Show History". 2008-05-27. Retrieved 2010-03-06. [unreliable source?]
  52. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Telethon". BrainyHistory. Xplore, Inc.[specify]. Retrieved 2010-03-06.  Note that this site may be unreliable: it claims 1966 telethon as "$15,000", and the site's direct publisher is operating anonymously behind a private registration.
  53. ^ MDA Primetime Telethon Achieves $61.5 Million. News release. Retrieved September 5, 2011.
  54. ^ TheKidsAreAllRight documentary website about a former Jerry's Kid named Mike Ervin
  55. ^ "The Nutty Profess-ion" article from Rabble News
  56. ^ Oh Thank Heaven! The Story of The Southland Corporation, by Allen Liles; The Southland Corporation, 1977.
  57. ^ Radio-Info: "Jerry Lewis Telethon - 2009 Affiliate List", 9/6/2009.

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