In an unprecedented show of collaboration, cooperation and camaraderie, the four major TV networks-Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, Viacom's CBS, General Electric Co.'s NBC and News Corp.'s Fox-came together to underwrite and air on Sept. 21, 2001 "America: A Tribute to Heroes." The 2-hour telethon, which featured many of Hollywood's premier performers, was otherwise unadorned with the usual trappings of star-studded events: no host, no live audience, no applause-and no commercials. Virtually everything about the telethon, which sought to raise money for the injured victims and the families of those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was donated. In the true spirit of anonymous collaboration-and as a testament to the overwhelmingly philanthropic nature of the show-no one individual or network is taking full credit for its creation.
The idea for the event originated among the executives at the four major networks, who, after pushing back the rollout of the fall TV season, approached Joel Gallen to produce the show. Mr. Gallen, a past VP-production at Viacom's MTV, had produced music and movie awards shows for the network, and last year directed "Not Another Teen Movie" from Sony Pictures Entertainment, as well as executive-produced Paramount Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures' "Zoolander" starring Ben Stiller.
Telethon celebrities including Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks, Willie Nelson, Julia Roberts and Bruce Springsteen volunteered to appear on the show, which aired simultaneously from unidentified stages in New York and Los Angeles. They sang, told stories of victims and survivors, and, thanks to the idea of actor George Clooney, answered phones as viewers called a toll-free number to make donations. The networks established a fund that was administered by the United Way; the fund-raiser raised some $117 million, of which $113 million already had been distributed.
Nielsen Media Research says nearly 90 million people watched at least some part of the program, which aired on a total of more than 30 national broadcast and cable networks-including TNT, HBO, MTV, PBS, UPN and Telemundo-and several radio outlets.
Mr. Gallen put "A Tribute to Heroes" together in less than six days, helping to round up the talent, stages and crews. He oversaw the writing of the script and opted for an understated performance with celebrities dressed mostly in black before a backdrop of lit candles.
The Producers Guild of America chose to honor Mr. Gallen for his efforts with a March 3 presentation of its Visionary Award. Mr. Gallen and Beth McCarthy-Miller also were honored for "A Tribute to Heroes" recently by the Directors Guild of America.